HUSAYNIYAH, Iraq - The town of Husayniyah was once a Sadr stronghold of Karbala province where the local people harbored a generally negative and even resentful view of the American presence. Many residents, because of misinformation, felt imposed upon and saw no reason for them to be there. Their resentment has begun to fade however with the long awaited completion of a Good Neighbor project that has turned the glares and blank stares of local Iraqis into warm greetings and even children feely approaching soldiers with trust and smiles on their faces.
Members of Troop A, 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, working through the local Provincial Reconstruction Team, provided Iraqi firefighters with the training and equipment they needed in order to effectively and safely fight fires in the town.
In May the PRT met with the mayor to see what things could be done to help improve local facilities and the town’s firehouse was one particular place the mayor pointed out. Members of the PRT walked to the fire house alongside the mayor to take a look for themselves.
“We found the firehouse and firefighters themselves to be completely untrained and under-equipped to do their job,” Lt. Col. Vince Rice, Deputy Team Leader for the PRT, of San Diego, said. “Their entire program was in very poor shape.”
In order for an adequate firefighting program to be developed for the Iraqis here a considerable amount of equipment would be needed as well as someone to provide specialized training in firefighting tactics. An initial $76,000 USD was approved for the project.
Within the PRT’s ranks it was discovered that Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Cote, a Navy reservist, was the man for the job. Cote, a native of Seattle and a full time fire chief when not wearing his uniform had the necessary experience to qualify him for the job at hand.
At the same time Troop A looked at how they could contribute and found exactly what was needed in the past experiences of Sgt. Brian Vanwinkle, the PRT’s Company Intelligence Support Team member originally from Little Falls, N.J. Vanwinkle, a retired fire captain of several years had served heroically on Sept. 11, 2001, at the site of the World Trade Center.
With Cote and Vanwinkle’s combined experience and funding appropriated for the project work began to assess how the firefighters could be best equipped and trained.
“When I first went to check these guys out I asked them to get all their gear together as well as the truck so I could see what we were working with,” said Cote. “The truck itself had seen better days, they all wore regular mechanics coveralls, and all their equipment fit into two small compartments on the truck.”
An inventory conducted during the initial inspection revealed only a pick, some handmade tools on their truck and two respirators for 25 firemen. The trucks’ water hose was made up of eight separate hoses of different lengths.
The firemen had never received any type of official training in their job and it was clear that they were in need of a wide range of personal protective equipment. For security reasons the training was conducted on Joint Security Station Husayniyah.
“The crew told me that the only training they had was from what they’d seen on television,” said Cote.
Vanwinkle identified some practices of the firefighters that were inefficient and changes that could help to make responding to fires easier once at the site. In addition to the firefighting training the crew received medical training to assist any casualties that may require treatment while responding to a fire.
“They would carry their hoses out to fires in separate pieces and then assemble them once they were there,” said Vanwinkle. “I showed them how to roll the whole hose onto the truck so they can roll it all out at once.”
An additional $86,000 USD was added to complete the total package which included new Self Contained Breathing Apparatus kits, complete full length fire hoses and fire suits with all necessary protective gear.
“The equipment and training they received were something they had only dreamt of before,” said Rice.
“These good neighbor initiatives are designed to demonstrate our commitment to leaving our area of operation in better shape than it was when we arrived,” said Rice. “This project shows the Iraqis who is really helping them.”