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 July 09, 2010

Mobilization

Firefighters face challenges serving in combat situations

Story & photos by Tom Michele, Eagle Systems & Services

U.S. Army Reserve Soldier firefighters face challenges those who serve in the comforts of home stations and civilian life don’t.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Fritz said his firefighters may have to overcome the lack of water hydrant systems, alarm systems and 9-1-1 phone systems, “plus there may be hostile people shooting at you.”

PHOTO: Firefighters use a water hose line to attack the flames billowing out of the simulated aircraft fuselage at the Volk Field Fire Training Facility. Photo by Tom Michele
Firefighters use a water hose line to attack the flames billowing out of the simulated aircraft fuselage at the Volk Field Fire Training Facility. The firefighters are with the 614th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting Team), from Yakima, Wash.

Fritz is the commander of Headquarters Company, 323rd Engineers (Firefighting Headquarters). Four personnel from the 323rd and seven personnel from the 614th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting Team), trained at Fort McCoy to deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The 323rd is from El Dorado, Kan., and the 614th from Yakima, Wash.

“The Soldier-firefighter is both a Soldier and a firefighter,” Fritz said. “They perform two skill sets — the professional firefighter who concentrates on a fire incident, and a Soldier in combat.”

Staff Sgt. Rich McDoniel, noncommissioned officer-in-charge and fire chief of the 323rd, said his firefighters mostly are stationed on large contingency operating locations and normally don’t go “outside the wire.”

At Fort McCoy, the firefighters completed weapons qualification, combat life saving, base defense tactics, techniques and procedures and situational training exercises on the installation’s ranges. The mission rehearsal exercise was military occupational specialty specific — firefighting.

Extrication of crash-test dummies from two junked cars was accomplished at Contingency Operating Location Freedom at Fort McCoy.

PHOTO: Firefighters from the 614th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting Team) use hydraulic cutting tools, including the Jaws of Life on the right, to cut off hoods, door hinges and roof posts on a vehicle at Fort McCoy’s Contingency Operating Location Freedom.
Firefighters from the 614th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting Team) use hydraulic cutting tools, including the Jaws of Life on the right, to cut off hoods, door hinges and roof posts on a vehicle at Fort McCoy’s Contingency Operating Location Freedom.

Training also included scenarios at Volk Field’s Fire Training Facility at a “burn house” and a simulated large cargo aircraft fuselage.

“The importance of our work in-theater is that we provide fire-protection service at base camps, forward operating bases and contingency operating locations,” McDoniel said.

Aircraft crash-rescue firefighting is a demanding mission, McDoniel said. Although the emphasis is on helicopters, firefighters also must be familiar with fixed-wing aircraft. Most aircraft use a more-flammable fuel than ground vehicles and require additional attention during fueling and defueling operations. Attack aircraft are twice as dangerous, since onboard fuel, electrical accessories, and landing impact have the capability of detonating ordnance on the aircraft.

The structural firefighting mission encompasses protecting static objects, such as tents, houses, barns, and other buildings. Firefighting crews require the skills to quickly position equipment and locate water sources, vent buildings, and search for victims in smoke-filled buildings.

McDoniel said the unit also has a fire- prevention mission, which is similar to their civilian counterparts.

During combat operations, Army firefighters provide aid to host nation fire departments and protect ammunition; petroleum, oil and lubricant storage sites; motor pools; and internment or dislocated-civilian camps.

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