News: Forged by fire
By Sgt. 1st Class Lisa M. Litchfield
319th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
FORT McCOY, Wis. – Flames lick the walls and interior temperatures exceed 1,000 degrees; the oppressive wall of heat and thick choking smoke mock the perfect summer day that lies just outside the door. As the firefighters make their way through the black interior, their thoughts aren’t on barbecues and swimming pools but on victims, communication and safety.
This is the scene at the Fort McCoy, Wis., burn house during Warrior Exercise 86. The first responders are members of the 392nd Engineer Detachment, Firefighters, Houston, Texas, here for their Extended Combat Training.
ECT gives units the chance to train in environments difficult to attain at home station, and for the 392nd, this is no different.
“This is a unique training opportunity,” said Staff Sgt. Martin Majda, lead trainer, 923rd Eng. Det., Firefighters, Fort McCoy, Wis. “To be able to actually come out and use a structure like this where you have invaluable assets, where you can get in and you can do so many different types of training.“
The structure Majda refers to is the Fort McCoy burn house; a training aid not often afforded to units back at home station.
The burn house is a three-story, metal building with temperature-rated clay tiles. These tiles are designed as a safety control, cracking if the temperature in the building exceeds training standards for heat. Thermocouplers in each room monitor temperatures as an extra measure of control.
The building is also able to adapt to a variety of changing scenarios, dependent on the needs of the training unit. A smoke machine at the rear of the structure is made of PVC pipe, each pipe leading to a different room. Trainers are able to send smoke to any or all of the rooms depending on training needs and to add to the realism of the fire. In several of the rooms, the walls are on casters and rollers so trainers can move closets, hallways and entrances for each scenario, eliminating the chance for building to become familiar after several days of training. There are even doors that can be added and removed each time the firefighters enter.
“They’ve been able to do fire training, live fire training with actual fire, heat and smoke,” said Majda. “They’ve done some rescue training, put their gear on and gone in there and felt the intensity of how everything is going to go, and had it at their disposal. This has really been their facility.”
For a unit that hasn’t been able to perform their primary firefighting mission for more than three years, this training was a welcome refresher of their skills.
“We’ve been together for awhile, but we haven’t actually trained as a fire team yet,” said Staff Sgt. Juan Rosado, team chief, 392nd Eng. Det. “This is our first time working together as a fire team … putting the team together is amazing with the cohesion we’ve got going on.”
For the past three years, the team has been on special mission, working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on National Defense projects and search and rescue missions instead of fire calls. This training combines both.
“Rescue is more stressful, takes a lot more out of you,” said Sgt. Fredrick Smith, lead fire fighter for the 392nd. “It’s time consuming and something you have to be extremely thorough with; if you miss something or someone that’s in a building, then they could lose their life.”
“Today is actually our final scenario … the final fire,” he explained. “The trainers we have been working with are Fort McCoy’s actual firefighters and they’ve taught us some new techniques that we hadn’t seen, so we’re going to be using some of those techniques … We’re going to implement some of their assets and skills and see how they work with us. Try to make it a little faster, a little better.”
According to the evaluation team, the unit has been responding well to the challenges put before them.
“The biggest success for them is that they adapt well,” said Sgt. 1st Class Paul Dziepak, observer, controller/trainer, 335th Training Support Battalion. “The instructors, the mentors, the fire department that is actually training them, they’ve given them some good tips and they are actually incorporating them into stuff they know and are actually picking up on a lot of things, changing things and adapting well to new techniques.”
Rosado said his team appreciated the insights and assistance given by the OCTs and fire trainers over the past week.
Firefighting doesn’t change,” he said. “It’s the same no matter where you go. You have to follow the same rules, but there are techniques and other things they can bring to the game.”
Firefighting doesn’t change, the rules stay the same and Rosado and his team are ready to accept that challenge.
“When everyone else is headed out, we are headed in.”