Former NASA firefighter presents never-before-seen photos in new book

Jeff Bobo • Nov 30, 2019 at 12:00 PM

CHURCH HILL — Former NASA and U.S. Navy firefighter Bill Killen recently released a book detailing the history of the Apollo and Skylab Astronaut Rescue Teams with many never-before-seen photos.

A former Church Hill alderman, Killen was a member of the Kennedy Space Center Astronaut Rescue Team during the height of the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s.

The 186-page book is titled “History of the Apollo and Skylab Astronaut Rescue Team” and features 83 pages in color with more more than 200 photographs, sketches and diagrams.

Killen said the book gives a great insider’s look at the space program from a firefighter’s point of view.

“This highly graphic book provides a detailed, step-by-step process used to extract the astronauts from the Apollo and Skylab command modules, including detailed photographs of the rescue procedures,” Killen added.

All proceeds from the sale of the book go to the National Fire Heritage Center.

Killen recently answered a few questions about the book for the Times News.

When were you member of the Kennedy Space Center Astronaut Rescue Team and National Fire Heritage Center president/CEO?

I was a member of the KSCFD (from) 1965-1974, serving as firefighter, driver engineer and rescueman. I served as rescueman (from) October 1968 until February 1974, when the rescue team was disestablished.

I am in my second term as president of the NFHC and (had) previous service as vice president for finance, a member of the board of directors, and chairman of the Hall of Legends, Legacies and Leaders Committee.

What was your job on the rescue team?

I was Rescue 5 of the prime six. Rescue team consisted of three Department of Defense military medics, three armored personnel carrier drivers, six rescuemen, a team leader and the team commander. One rescueman was assigned as cable winch operator, and five rescuemen and the team leader were assigned to the prime six. The prime six were the responders to rescue the astronauts from the command module.

Rescue 1 was team leader. Rescue 2 entered the command module and assisted Rescue 3 to extract the command pilot. Rescue 4 and Rescue 3 prepared the command pilot and exited the white room. Rescue 5 assisted by Rescue 2 extracted the senior pilot and with Rescue 6 removed the senior pilot from the white room. Rescue 1 assisted by Rescue 2 removed the pilot and exited the white room.

Each armored personnel carrier was staffed with a medic.

How did you acquire these photographs, and what are the years they were taken?

NASA photographs were official photos available from public affairs offices 1965/1974. Personnel photographs were taken by rescue team members before, during and post launch 1968-1974. Photo contributions were from John Bowman, Gerald Driskell, Rod Hobbs, Bill Killen, Lee Starrick and Roy Terry.

Do the photos tell a story? What will the reader learn from this book?

The reader will observe never-before-published photos detailing the rescue procedures for rescue of astronauts during the Apollo and Skylab programs. Specialized training evolution including hyperbolic firefighting and familiarization of launch platforms.

What is the National Fire Heritage Center, and what do they do with monetary contributions?

The NFHC is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the perishable history of fire service leaders including fire industry and manufacturers.

The NFHC is the founder of the Hall of Legends, Legacies and Leaders (Hall of Fame) and Who’s Who in the fire services.

Contributions fund archiving documents, cataloging collections, a website and newsletter and typical organization daily operating expenses.

All officers, directors, trustees and committee members are volunteers and receive no remuneration from the NFHC.

For additional information or to order a book, email Killen at [email protected]