By Sgt. Brandon HubbardJuly 30, 2014
KOGALNICEANU, Romania - A burning plane, 75 passengers in danger and first responders from two nations trying to overcome a language barrier to save lives, that is the scenario U.S. and Romanian emergency crews at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base faced June 14 in the first airfield response exercise at the joint Romanian transportation hub.
Romanian civilian firefighters, who are routinely staged at the airfield to respond to potential disasters, were first on the scene and rushed onto the plane during the scenario to help pull survivors from the smoldering aircraft. A smoke machine inside a C-17 aircraft simulated the burning aircraft - limiting visibility and airflow.
Moments later, U.S. Air Force civil engineering firefighters stationed at MK Air Base, wearing metallic, fire proximity suits, rushed into the fuselage to engage the fire and ensure all the passengers had been removed.
"We have to get two sets of eyes [inside the plane]," said Senior Airman Joran Christian, a civil engineer firefighter from Lakenheath, England, who was part of the second team sweeping the aircraft.
Being prepared for a disaster is critical for the MK Air Base Transportation Center. Each day, hundreds of U.S. service members travel through the transit center to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and operations throughout the Asian and African continents.
"This was the first time we worked with the joint [Romanian] civilian firefighters," said Capt. Thomas Dixon, provost marshal and director of emergency services at MK Air Base, with the 93rd Military Police Battalion, and a native of Fort Bliss, Texas. "We work usually on the permanent forward operating base and temporary operating base with our Romanian military counterparts."
With a multitude of planes, a basic interior electrical fire like the one that happened during the training could be a real-world situation requiring both the joint militaries and local civilians to respond to save lives.
"It's a Romanian civilian airport, so it has to be a joint venture but those are our [C-17] assets," Dixon said. "So essentially, there has to be two incident commanders - one Romanian and one American."
While this was the first joint airfield response exercise with the civilians, operational training is routine between the two countries, including preparing threats like unknown packages and active terrorist shooters.
The exercise required all the members to work in waves. Romanian and U.S. medical workers and firefighters worked together on the flight line, while U.S. Air Force security forces, U.S. Army military police and U.S. Marines from the Black Sea Rotational Force provided external security to control the scene.