Afghan firefighters
Mezira Shirzad coordinates efforts with the fire team coming behind him as his partner enters a burning trailer during a live-fire exercise Tuesday.

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 8, 2011 -- Afghan firefighter recruits proved their skills Tuesday by pushing through the steam and smoke to fight fires from the inside out during a live-fire exercise that brought pioneering techniques to Afghanistan.

"Today we have a different scenario for them. They will be extinguishing the fire and rescuing a victim from inside the building," said Abdul Basir, a firefighter instructor with Kabul-based Afghan Vision Group.

Afghan Vision Group, an Afghan company, was contracted by coalition forces in an "Afghan first" approach, which relies on Afghan companies and workers to provide services, materials and labor on projects funded by international donors. In addition to trainers, the company provided a reusable, mobile trailer to serve as the burning building.

"They [AVG] can cross the language barrier, have trainers and equipment. This trailer is one of the many pieces of equipment that they are going to push out across the nation," said Desi Wade, fire chief, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.

The unique aspect of Tuesday's training was a shift in approach where firefighters fight the fire directly at the source. Much of Afghans' fire-fighting techniques are remnants from 30 years ago when Soviet forces taught them the 'surround and drown' approach.

Tuesday's training combined both approaches, said Wade. "This is simulating a structural fire. They've all been through the [fire fighting] academy. The tactics that we have introduced are more advanced than what they received in their basic academy."

Till now, the Afghans followed the Soviet approach because they lacked the proper protective equipment to go into burning buildings.

"They've never had the capability of really rescuing [people in a burning building] or fighting the fire up front. They have always used proximity fire fighting where it was just maintaining [the situation]," said Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Miller, fire mentor to Afghan Ministry of Interior. In addition to their normal fire suits, the recruits were equipped with face masks and breathing apparatuses that enabled them to enter the smoke filled environment.

Mezira Shirzad was one of the recruits who faced the billowing smoke as he entered the burning building.

"When I opened the door - because I had all the protective equipment, breathing apparatus and mask - I saw the smoke, but I couldn't feel anything," said Shirzad.

"The face covering and gloves are important because when you are fighting a fire in a confined space it actually causes steam. The steam itself can cause burns," Miller said.

Halfway through the training, an AVG instructor had one of the firefighters simulate being injured. His teammates had to rescue him from the burning trailer while continuing to fight the fire.

After the fire was out, Mohammad Karzim, fire chief of the Afghan Fire Department, praised his recruits for their ability to handle the fire and rescue the victim - two tasks he said they did "very well."

"We learned how to search and rescue people while crawling," said Karzim. Before, they would do this while standing.

The live-fire exercise culminated the recruits' eight weeks of training. Part of that training today was learning about fires in confined spaces.

"[During the fire] they removed their gloves and felt the heat layers. There is a thermal layer when the fire is going; the heat is coming down and [it shows the recruits] why you have to stay low," explained Miller.

"Thermal layers and steam are things that they were not aware of because everything they had done was outside, all proximity," Miller said.

One of the lessons learned by the Afghan recruits was how important it is to ensure the equipment is properly attached.

"I learned today that before I go into the fire, my protective gear must be properly attached. Mine was released a little bit on the neck strap. When we sprayed water on the fire, I got burned," said Shirzad.

But the experience did not dampen Shirzad's spirit.

"I wanted to be a firefighter to do a good service for the people. I am very happy about the feeling of fighting fire," Shirzad said.

The firefighting mentorship program is a fairly new endeavor.

"This will be the eighth time we have used this trailer since starting this program," said Miller. "It is [the start] of a program to go to every zone, every region, and every district."

Under-strength with only 50 U.S. fire mentors across Afghanistan, the mentorship leaders are looking to bring in new countries and improve the training program.

During recent trips to Dubai and Pakistan, leaders from both agreed to train Afghan firefighters in their own lands and also support the training by sending mentors here when a new national fire training academy is established, Miller said.

There is no academy in Afghanistan, but one is on the horizon.

According to Wade, the new academy is expected to be ready for its first recruit by this time next year.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16