News: Spraying Saviors: Firefighters train to preserve lives, property
Story by Cpl. Reece Lodder
Piercing, orange flames glow within the steel beast, sharply contrasting with the darkness inside. A giant neon truck screeches onto the scene, spitting out a counterattack clad in silver, spaceman-looking suits. In a flash, the saviors have unrolled hoses, breached the cabin, and begun quelling the fire inside.
Though the situation is simulated, it is the stark reality for firefighters with Aircraft Rescue Firefighting, Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. As part of their intensive training schedule, ARFF conducted burn training near the MCAS flight line, Oct. 24, 2010.
“Our mission is to save lives and minimize damage to government property,” said Master Sgt. Keith Kulman, staff noncommissioned officer in charge, ARFF. “If an aircraft crashes, our first priority is to save those inside. Secondly, we perform salvage and recovery-type missions to try prevent expensive equipment from being destroyed.”
Serving MCAS is a challenging yet important duty. The air station is strategically located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the home to a variety of aviation squadrons. ARFF must remain proficient in their capabilities, ready to handle emergencies and preserve assets.
“Every emergency situation is different,” said Cpl. Brice Kuehn, rescue man, ARFF. “Our job is to prepare for anything, so we have to be able to adapt to and overcome any situation.”
ARFF uses the Mobile Aircraft Firefighting Training Device, a 50-foot-long stainless steel aircraft mock-up, to practice realistic firefighting scenarios monthly.
The mobile unit, widely used by other ARFF units around the Corps, arrived at MCAS in March 2010 and replaced an outdated, static burn pit at Landing Zone Westfield.
“Instead of just seeing a piece of metal on a concrete pad, you actually have the device in front of you, allowing you to make entry and work around the aircraft,” said Kuehn, of Fife, Wash.
Since the MATFD looks like a real aircraft, it enables drivers to practice their approach when responding to incidents, Kulman added.
Based on their experience and knowledge of their teams, section leaders create scenarios set around different types of aircraft and fire zones.
Once the scenario begins, a MATFD operator controls the flow of propane to target areas of the device, such as the cabin, cockpit, wings and engines.
The responding team of firefighters arrives, prepares equipment, and organizes their approach before moving in to extinguish the fire. Meanwhile, a second operator watches over the scenario and ensures safety.
Since the MATFD is mobile, it can also function as a realistic training device in exercises. During Exercise Lethal Breeze here, Sept. 8, the device was used to simulate an aircraft fire during an aircraft mishap drill. This training helped ARFF support the 2010 Kaneohe Bay Air Show in September.
Working up to burn training, the firefighters go through nearly 20 classes per month, drawing from the Navy’s Aircraft Firefighting and Rescue Manual. Within the ARFF community, the hefty manual is commonly referred to as “the ARFF Bible.”
Between reviewing topics such as gear, aircraft danger areas and egress points, and rescue and extraction procedures, the firefighters inspect their trucks daily, testing pumps, appliances, and ensuring their drivability. The sections rotate duties on 48 and 72 hour shifts, taking turns providing immediate alert response on the flight line, Kuehn said.
While the time spent in class is important for the firefighters, they are truly tested when the fires begins burning, said Kulman, of Cobleskill, N.Y.
“You can teach somebody classes all day long, but you can’t know what it’s like until you put the gear on, experience its weight, and feel the heat of the fire,” Kulman said. “That’s when you find out if the firefighter is able to work with the stress of combating a live fire.”