News: Illinois Army National Guard Units Battle 20-Foot Flames in South Dakota
Story by Pfc. Jason Northcutt
ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. – Engine one ready, engine two ready, engine three ready. Burn is a go. These words fill the radio air waves as Soldiers from the 661st and 662nd Firefighting Teams with the Illinois Army National Guard in Sparta, fight aircraft and structural fires in a week long, hands on, firefighting training. The exercise is taking place at one of only four sites left in the U.S. that uses diesel fuel to help train troops to fight fires.
Each year the teams must complete both day and night burns to keep their military job skills up-to-date. This year the Sparta units are participating in a multi-state, multi-unit operation known as “Golden Coyote.”
“In the past, the firefighting teams have only used propane for hands-on training which limits the techniques used,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Milner from Mascoutah, the station chief for the 661st.
“By controlling the techniques used, the teams do not get a chance to use the firefighting agents they will use in the field. The training we are doing here is with carbon-based fuels, or diesel, and are not controlled by timers or water levels sprayed over the fire.”
The training is realistic and puts the Soldiers in situations they could battle in a real-life incident.
“The fire teams actually have to put the fire out,” Milner said. “Using the diesel is more realistic, burns hotter and they will use the skills they have learned to put the fire out.”
The teams are not only fighting aircraft fires, but are learning structural firefighting techniques.
“These structure fires teach the teams how fires can spread,” said Warrant Officer (1) Wade Lein, Commander of the 216th and 451st Firefighting Detachment with the South Dakota Army National Guard in Sturgis, S.D.
Another technique taught is hydraulic ventilation. By creating a fog pattern and shooting the water out an open window, the water pulls the heat and smoke from the room. This increases visibility and decreases the heat in the room.
“This technique helps in putting out the fire and search and rescue for anyone trapped inside,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Heiken of New Minden, a member of the 662nd Firefighting Team.
For some Soldiers, the training received is the first hands-on training since they first enlisted and were taught their military jobs.
“The training is great,” said Pvt. Christian Santos of Villa Park who enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard in 2009. “This is the first time I have fought a fire not controlled by timers or instructors.”
Santos finished his military schooling one month ago and sees this training as an opportunity to get to know the unit and train with the actual equipment used in the field.
The experiences are also unique because they combine military units from several states with civilians to conquer a common goal.
“The training makes for a long night, but I love doing it,’” said William Cina, a civilian firefighter with the Ellsworth Air Force Base who has seen many units from all over the U.S. take part in the training. “I love doing this! I love that I can help and teach others how to fight fires. The training has a huge payoff when they are deployed.”