News: MCAS turns up the heat for emergency training
Story by Christine Cabalo
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, KANEOHE BAY - Ready to face the fire and confront the blazing flames, the Aircraft Rescue Firefighting crews geared up for emergency response training held Dec. 21.
Their training was part of a larger exercise testing how quickly teams at Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay responded to a simulated aircraft mid-air collision. The ARFF rescuers and the Federal Fire Department practiced extinguishing fires involving hazardous materials and emergency rescues.
"Depending on the aircraft, there's a large amount of magnesium which burns at 5,000 degrees," said Paul Anslow, director of safety, MCAS. "There's also carbon fibers, which can create a [chemical] hazard when burned. So it's not like wood or a grease fire in a kitchen, it's toxic."
Crews practiced putting out a fuselage fire using a simulator called the Mobile Aircraft Firefighting Training Device, a mock-up of an aircraft with controllable fire switches.
In silver protective suits, the Marine and Navy fire fighters walked into the dark clouds of smoke armed with high-pressure water hoses.
"When you go into the aircraft, it's very hot," said Cpl. Michael Thomas, firefighter, ARFF, from Scottsburg, Ind. "You need to get down low and yell over the noise. You're almost going in blind and feeling it out."
This is the second round of training using the MAFTD for Lance Cpl. Connor Knecht, firefighter, ARFF, from Gig Harbor, Wash. The additional training has given him more experience to draw upon in the heat of an emergency.
"You understand it better," Knecht said. "It's a different challenge each time you go in there."
The challenge was also on the Federal Fire Department when Thomas and Knecht acted as unconscious first responders inside the burning fuselage. Several Federal Fire Dept. rescuers raced in to offer aid to the two, practicing emergency medical aid.
Thomas and Knecht's Personal Alert Safety System devices were activated. The system is a constant high-pitched alarm that is activated after a firefighter has stopped moving for 20 seconds or more. It can help find downed firefighters in the smoke when visibility is limited, said Battalion Chief Chris Rapoza, Training Division, Federal Fire Dept.
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Velazquez, section leader, ARFF, monitored his section's response and said they've done well working together as a team. He was glad to see his section and the Federal Fire Department coordinate quickly to offer each other assistance. He noted the exercise helps firefighters train to anticipate anything in an emergency, even if it seems like the flames are out.
"Aircraft fires can come from any compartment, all around," Velazquez said. "Just because it's not showing on one side doesn't mean there's no more fire."
This exercise is the fifth mishap drill MCAS has practiced since June 2010. Anslow said every time units practice, their response times are faster and better coordinated. He said although Marine Corps aviation units are required to train at least once a year, MCAS is working on making their exercises a quarterly event. For this latest exercise, members of Waterfront Operations also drilled by rescuing simulated survivors from the water.
As the MCAS director of safety, Anslow said the air station strives to make each exercise realistic, to ensure Kaneohe Bay units work smoothly together.
"Their coordination is so important," he said. "They train not only to protect themselves, but protect the environment and any onlookers."