By Staff Sgt. Michael ChesmerJuly 29, 2014
FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif.-With red lights blaring, a M1142 Tactical Fire Fighting Truck speeds up to a burning building with thick dark smoke billowing its windows. In a rush, firefighters of the 238th Engineer Detachment, an Army Reserve unit from Houston, Texas, quickly assemble a three-man breach team to open a way into the burning building, while a nozzle team assertively lays out the hose lines.
The 238th arrived at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., earlier this summer for pre-mobilization training before it deploys overseas in October.
Each year Army Reserve firefighting units arrive to Fort Hunter Liggett to participate in a Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTE). The Department of Defense employs civilian firefighters at the Fort Hunter Liggett Fire Department (FHLFD), which conducts up to five cycles of the exercise each year on rotating two-week basis for units readying for deployment, said Michael B. Hewston of Paso Robles, Calif., the assistant fire chief of FHLFD.
"We train them in eight different operations during their two week cycle," said Christopher McGuire, the FHLFD Chief. "We put them in a controlled environment. We put them in a flashover; get them to understand a flashover; how to read smoke and how to communicate with each other." A flashover, McGuire explained, is a sudden explosion of fire and intense heat. "We build up their skill sets," he said.
With eight different operations of training, the firefighters of the 238th get a chance to run through all aspects of fighting a structural fire.
They run pump operations to operate the water pumps on their vehicles; ladder operations; forcible entry to learn how to use tools such as the 30 inch halligan tool to pry open doors; search and rescue to locate victims; ventilation operations to control heat and smoke buildup; vehicle extraction techniques to remove victims from vehicles; single room fire training and flashover operations to recognize possible fire bursts.
"This is very good training we receive-it helps us keep up our skills and learn new tactics," said Spc. Hector M. Rivera, a firefighter with the 238th from Houston, Texas.
Each firefighter is also certified in CPR according to the American Heart Association standards, said Hewston. And every few days, four Soldiers rotate on stand-by with the department for real world experience if an emergency comes up, said McGuire.
Every unit in the Army must meet certain requirements to maintain its proficiency and deployability each year. Army firefighter units must qualify as a unit annually by putting out a live fire, noted Rivera.
"Participating in this training counts for us as extinguishing a live fire even though it is a controlled fire," he said.
The firefighters of the 238th have been a very motivated group of Soldiers in this training exercise and have been fantastic to work with, said McGuire. "They have been very eager, coming here every single day to the fire station at 7:30 a.m., involved in roll-call, and eager to get out there."
CSTE exercises come with new challenges and expectations with each cycle. Different units, Soldiers and techniques make each cycle unique. All Soldiers and firefighters have something to gain. "We all hope to have some new experience to take home with us," said Rivera.
"We get value out of this too," explained McGuire. "Because we're training our own personnel, and we're also helping these firefighters going down range."
Aside from training Army Reserve units in the intricacies of fighting structural fires, the FHLFD is also responsible for emergencies on post.
On June 19 a Utah National Guard Aviation unit operating during a CSTE, ignited a blazing wildfire by shooting hellfire missiles during a live fire exercise that charred and consumed 5,000 acres of grassland at Fort Hunter Liggett. The department fought tirelessly containing the fire by June 23.
The FHLFD is authorized a total manpower of 50 firefighters.
Currently it's a little understaffed, but the department is in the process of hiring 12 more firefighters later this summer, said McGuire. "The additional 12 will put us close with 45."
With a firehouse with 12 available fire-fighting vehicles, or apparatuses as McGuire likes to call them, the department can use all the help it can get when responding to large fires.
Each firefighter works on a shift rotation of 72 hours on and 96 hours off, said McGuire, covering each shift with nine firefighters at all times.
Of the current firefighters, two are also paramedics and the rest are registered Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), said McGuire.
"Each firefighter is responsible for maintaining their certification and licensing in paramedic and EMT, National Wildland Firefighting and the mandated physical fitness standards governed by the Department of Defense and the Army," he said.
The department is responsible for more than 168,000 acres, divided into 30 fire management zones within and around post.
To help maintain the territory, the department works in coordination with Monterey and Los Angeles Counties along with the United States Forest Service fire departments.
"With so much land being miles away from any recourses, it is vastly important to have a good working relationship with some outside sources to keep fires contained and from spreading outside Hunter Liggett and vise versa," McGuire says.
For Soldiers and civilians who risk their lives with emergencies that come their way, Rivera said, "firefighting is a brotherhood."
McGuire added, "it's just daily living for us."