By Spc. Anthony T. Zane, 362nd Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentJune 14, 2013
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- A fire can happen anytime, anywhere, and there are many reasons a fire can breakout, that is why the U.S. Army has its own firefighters.
A group of soldiers from the 287th, 339th, 356th, and 530th Engineer Firefighting Detachment Teams, as well as the 468th Engineer Firefighting Headquarters Detachment, joined together and participated in a simulated fire training exercise at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass., June 8, 2013.
The exercise used a propane-fueled, controlled fire structure with smoke-filled rooms to create a realistic scenario.
"Today we focused on structural fire fighting, doing basic hose advancements, and fire attack, as well as victim search and rescue techniques, downed firefighters, mayday calls, pumping operations, and convoy operations," said Staff Sgt. Anthony Edgecomb, noncommissioned officer in charge, 468th Engineer Detachment Firefighting Headquarters Company, from New London, N.H.
Soldiers were exposed to fire that can get up to 300 degrees that crawls up the walls and across the ceiling. While only a fraction of the temperatures firefighters face on an actual call, it still proved valuable training for the soldiers. The rooms were filled with smoke causing near zero visibility, another obstacle to test their skills.
Safety uniforms, equipment, close supervision by the units' NCO's and the use of non-poisonous, breathable vapor smoke are part of the exercise to ensure the soldiers are not injured during training.
"One of the keys to the firefighter's uniform is it is in multiple layers," said Staff Sgt., Brett Haynes, 468th Engineer Detachment Firefighting Team, Operations noncommissioned officer, from Merrimack, N.H.
There is a thermal barrier and a moisture barrier as part of the uniform. Between all the layers, it helps manage humidity and helps deflect the heat, said Haynes. It's the atmospheric conditions that make us really hot, and the uniform does a great job to keep us as cool as possible for the environment we are in, he said.
The air tanks are equipped with a personal accountability safety system (PASS) alarm bell in the event of low air in the tank the bell will sound, said Edgecomb.
"In the event that a firefighter goes down and doesn't move, that alarm will get progressively louder so you can go in and locate that firefighter," said Edgecomb.
The alarms are just one of the many ways firefighters must communicate because it is often difficult due to thick smoke, heavy equipment, and loud noises.
"A lot of the time you are going in blind," said Spc. Russell Chesanek, from Acworth, N.H., crew chief of 530th Engineer Detachment Firefighting Team. "If you can't see, you're crawling and you're feeling your way through."
When you are exposed to an environment where vision is extremely limited, and there are loud noises all around, we communicate mostly by tapping each other on the shoulders because you can't talk well through the masks, said Chesanek.
Another safety technique used in a fire is called "sounding the board," in which the firefighter will tap a tool or a fist on the floorboard to check that it is secure.
At times, for various reasons, firefighters may not be able to safely enter a burning building conventionally by a door or window and finding another way in is crucial.
"When we need to go into a building we may need to go into the roof and cut a hole in it. So, before going onto the roof we 'sound' it to make sure it is safe to go onto it," said Spc. Nicole Loupe, 530th Engineer Detachment Firefighting Team, a resident of Brunswick, N.H.
Controlled fire training is only one part of what the Army firefighters mission.
As Army firefighters, we focus on structural fire fighting which is a huge component of what we do, but we are also primarily airfield crash rescue, said Edgecomb. So, on top of knowing how to fight fires in tents, cars, and buildings they also have to be very familiar with various aircraft in the event of a crash.
The various firefighters consist of veteran soldiers, as well as newer soldiers who must conduct fire and rescue training each year.
"The newer soldiers are getting more exposure than they have previously due to the fact that we are partnering them with senior soldiers that have been firefighters on the outside, in the civilian side, as well as firefighters that have been in the unit seven or eight years," said Edgecomb.
With the risk of a fire that can happen at any time or any place, it is the controlled burn trainings like this that keep fire fighting soldiers ready to face the fire, home or abroad.
"Training always goes outstanding with this group," said Edgecomb. "It's a very well disciplined, highly organized, highly motivated group of soldiers that do everything they possibly can to give me 100 percent and to give the Army 100 percent."