News: Eustis hosts multi-agency marine firefighting school
Story by Staff Sgt. Katie Ward
JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. - Approximately 115 firefighters from more than 10 local, national and international agencies took part in the 23rd Annual Hampton Roads Marine Firefighting School maritime incident response exercise at Fort Eustis, May 16.
The exercise was the culmination of hands-on and practical training the students learned during the five-day school, which started May 12. Prior to the incident exercise, students gained classroom knowledge at the Norfolk Fire Training Center and practiced live burns and de-watering techniques at various local training areas and on different vessels.
Students attended the school from various regional agencies including the Langley Air Force Base Fire Department, the Virginia Beach Fire Department, the Newport News Fire Department, Hampton Fire Rescue and Norfolk Fire Rescue. In addition, fire departments from New York, Philadelphia, Delaware, California and New Hampshire participated as well as international firefighters from Hong Kong, Singapore and the Netherlands.
The maritime incident exercise began at Third Port at Fort Eustis, where students boarded Fort Eustis’ vessels and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Frank Drew to be taken to the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD) National Defense Reserve Fleet on the James River.
Once students reached the Reserve Fleet, the objective of the exercise was to evaluate how they responded to and extinguished a simulated shipboard fire, said Bill Burket, Port of Virginia Hampton Roads Maritime Incident Response Team director, who coordinated the exercise.
“[The exercise] allows [students’] hands-on and classroom training components to come together so they are able to demonstrate what platforms, logistics and equipment are needed [in a shipboard fire],” said Burket. “A marine event requires multiple agencies, so this gives everyone an idea of what to do, and they can take it back to share with their own agencies.”
Jim O’Brien, a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department, said he gained significant insights from not only the exercise, but the Hampton Roads Marine Firefighting School as a whole.
“It shows us what to expect in a ship fire and gives us different tools and training we normally may not be aware of,” said O’Brien. “It’s also good for [firefighters] to know what the staff on a ship [that is experiencing a fire] may need, and [this exercise] teaches us how to respond.”
In teaching firefighters how to respond to marine incidents, the exercise and school curriculum allows students to provide specialized support to MARAD, local and regional agencies and surrounding communities, said Burket.
“We need to be able to show the community if [a vessel] encounters a problem and needs assistance, we’re trained to respond and take care of the situation,” said Burket. “We have a strong relationship with our port partners, and we were very fortunate this year to be able to train so many students so their agencies now have increased capabilities.”