A Q-West fire department truck waits for a fire emergency here. If Soldiers don't keep their CHUs safe, they may be visited by one. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Matthew C. Cooley, 15th Sustainment Brigade public affairs)

CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION Q-WEST, Iraq - Containerized housing units are what one might call a Soldier's humble abode.

This home away from home is about half the size of a standard trailer home, and with up to two Soldiers sharing the quarters, it may be somewhat challenging to make homey.

But Soldiers' ingenuity has repeatedly shown that it can be done - and done safely.

"I understand that the Soldiers in the CHUs try to make them a little bit of home, but they have to have a good balance," "Safety Dave" Sullivan, the 15th Sustainment Brigade safety officer, said.

"They have to ask themselves, is this right'" he said of anything that a Soldier does with their room.

Safety Dave's biggest concern was fire.

"If the guy in CHU A's CHU catches fire it's likely yours will go up too," he explained. "It's a matter of minutes in fires in the CHUs."

One of the main causes for CHU fires is faulty or overloaded power strips, he said. Only power strips with the CE, UL, or GS stamps are safe for use.

To help fix this issue, the Q-West fire department and Task Force Safe will freely exchange Soldier's non-approved power strips, one for one, no questions asked at the fire station here.

"I don't want to see any military ... or anybody getting injured from a self inflicted wound from stupid stuff - that's a waste," John Petrovic, the Q-West fire chief, said.

Power strips have a maximum amount of power that they are rated to handle listed somewhere on them. The amount of power that a device uses is also listed on the device.

Sullivan urged Soldiers to do the math and make sure the sum of power being used by the devices plugged into a strip is less than the maximum that the strip is rated for.

Petrovic also mentioned that it is a good idea to plug microwaves and refrigerators directly into the wall and never into a power strip together as they are high powered appliances.

"Don't daisy chain!" Sullivan said, referring to using multiple extension cords or plugging one power strip into another.

There are a number of items which are not permitted in CHUs as they are considered a safety hazard as well. Candles, coffee pots, and hot plates are among the list of fire hazards not allowed.

"Americans like to grill ... but not in the CHUs," Safety Dave said.

Sullivan said that if Soldiers wish to grill, they must do so outside of their pad's walls.

Morale fires are also permitted, but only with a burn permit from the fire department.

Another, possibly less noticeable fire risk is faulty wiring and light ballasts. If your florescent lights don't turn on immediately or flicker, it could be a sign of trouble and needs to be reported to the chain of command or mayor cell, Sullivan said.

Petrovic also noted that Soldiers sometimes disable their smoke detectors during sandstorms and then neglect to turn them back on.

The smoke detectors' sensors may also become dirty from sand, he said, and the dust needs to be blown out of the detectors' vents from time to time.

Empty or inoperable fire extinguishers can be another problem. The fire department here will also exchange them one for one, Petrovic said.

Is there really a high danger of CHU fires'

According Petrovic there was an average of two CHU fires a month until recently, when the fire department and other safety officials stepped up their safety education efforts.

Although Sullivan and Petrovic agreed that fires are the biggest safety concern in the CHUs, Sullivan noted some other considerations.

Non-tactical vehicles are a danger to Soldiers on the pads, and are therefore not authorized, even for loading and unloading.

It is a Soldier's responsibility to bury the cables running between their CHUs, for safety and the cable's protection.

"If you see something doesn't look right report it," Safety Dave said.

"We need to take care of each other. Everyone who left ... we all come home together."

In case of emergency on Q-West, call 911 on Secure Internet Protocol Routed network, Non-secure Internet Protocol Routed network, or contractors' Voice Over Internet Protocol phones.

Page last updated Mon October 19th, 2009 at 10:33