IWAKUNKI, Japan - Shortly after the sun emerges from the horizon, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan residents may see black smoke rise in the distance to break the sky line from the Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting Marines practice burns some Friday mornings.
A circular pit filled with water up to the Marines' ankles serves as the practice burn pit. Jet fuel is then dumped into the water and then set on fire to create a giant blaze.
Two Marines are assigned to one hose and stand right behind each other. The Marine in front mans the hose and controls where the water is going, while the Marine behind him places his hand on his shoulder for balance, and to watch the fire to make sure it doesn’t wrap around behind them.
As the Marine manning the hose sprays one side, the Marine behind him closely watches the other. When the fire begins to wrap around, or spread, to the side the Marine behind is watching, he gives the front man a tap on the hip, dependent of the side he is watching, and repeats that until the blaze is extinguished.
Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting conducts burns in order to prepare Marines to extinguish fires where people’s lives, or their own, are at risk.
“This is live fire, and fire is unpredictable,” said Sgt. Titus G. Almazan, ARFF senior rescueman. “You have to teach (junior Marines) how to attack a fire...it’s real fire, and if you don’t do it right, it’s going to come behind you and you have to figure out how to get out of it. The main purpose is if we have worst case scenario, where we have fuel spill on the deck and you have a pilot trapped inside, they know how they are going to attack it to push that fire away from the cockpit, so the rescue man can get in there and get the pilot out. That’s the main purpose of doing burns like this.”
Almazan took time to reflect back to 2010, when he was involved in the largest fire of his career while stationed in Afghanistan.
“When we responded, we didn’t have enough trucks or gear to tackle a fire like that. We just had to do what we could,” said Almazan. “While we were in the fire, a sandstorm hit and completely shifted where the fire was, and it surrounded the trucks. We lost two trucks that burned up in the fire...We didn’t know how to get out, or where we could get out from.”
Almazan said he believes that any sort of experience or knowledge one senior Marine has should be passed down to junior Marines, because that may be the knowledge necessary to save someone’s life.
Lance Corporal Mark S. Nesbitt, ARFF rescueman, is a junior Marine under Almazan. Like Almazan, Nesbitt passes along the knowledge he has gained to his junior Marines in order to make sure their lives are in better hands.
“Before you go in, you’re talking to your back-up man, because it’s important to him to keep you alive,” said Nesbitt. “If he is not doing his job, then it’s going to affect you, and you are both going to go down.”
Almazan said he knows the dangers and risks of his job, but was humble when discussing why he still carries out his duties as an ARFF Marine.
“It’s similar to what everyone joins the Marines for,” said Almazan. “You want to do your part and serve. This is just a step above that. It’s putting yourself in harm’s way just because someone has to do it, and someone has to protect (other people).”