SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Firefighters from the 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron geared up and headed out to a nearby military installation here for annual live-fire training, Oct. 27-28, giving them a unique opportunity to hone their skills while working more closely as a team.
Using a Mobile Aircraft Firefighter Trainer, or MAFT, that resembles a grounded C-130 Hercules, 27 firefighters extinguished interior and exterior fires, and performed rescue operations with two manikins weighing 185 pounds each, explained Tech. Sgt. Matthew Degase, a 386th ECES firefighter.
Such hands-on training is crucial for the development of each firefighter's individual abilities, but Degase said the most beneficial aspect of the annual training is the opportunity it provides for deployed firefighters to work as a team. Unlike at home station, where fire departments are comprised of Airmen who've worked together for years, deployed fire stations are staffed with a continuing rotation of firefighters from multiple units. The 386th ECES, located at an undisclosed air base here, has members from five different Air National Guard units.
"We all get the same training throughout the Air Force, but to see how everyone can come together as a team and possibly save a life or each other's life is the best part," Degase said. "This training will give us that opportunity to see us as a team."
Interior, exterior and rescue teams maneuvered around the MAFT to extinguish fires as quickly as possible and remove any personnel trapped inside the aircraft, simulating a real-world scenario. Time is an important consideration, but certainly not the first.
"Safety is obviously the number-one priority for us," said Degase. "We know we have to go as fast as possible to save lives, but we need to watch out for each other as well. This is how we will learn."
The time of day that training is conducted also was a factor, explained Staff. Sgt. Aaron Wescott -- especially when daytime ambient temperatures can reach well above 100 degrees outside. As a result, much of the training was conducted at night.
"We go in with 35 pounds of equipment and are completely sealed in with a vapor barrier which doesn't let the heat from our bodies escape," said Wescott, a 386th ECES firefighter deployed here from Lincoln, Neb. "Our core temperatures go up higher than normal, so conducting fire burns at night, when it's cooler, helps us out a bit."
Wescott agreed that the most beneficial aspect of the training was the opportunity it provided to work more closely with his fellow firefighters in a live-fire setting.
"This is definitely a great team-building experience for us because we are working with other units that we've never worked with before," he said.