FORT MCCOY, Wis. - Approximately 40 Army Reserve firefighters from numerous engineer detachments have converged here to participate in hands-on training exercises as part of the 86th Training Division's Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTX) held here Aug. 16.
"The goals of the firefighter teams are to train in our mission essential tasks, meet the commander's training objectives ... work on everyone's proficiencies and get their skill levels up," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard McDoniel, the headquarters noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) and fire chief of the 323rd Engineer Detachment from El Dorado, Kansas.
This year's annual training exercise for this group of firefighter teams is especially important, as the 416th Theater Engineer Command (TEC) had created a plan to unify these oft-scattered detachments and improve the maintenance upkeep and refurbishment of equipment.
"We've had problems before since we're not mechanics ... we didn't know the causes nor had personnel who could tell us the specifics of these issues," said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Timm, the detachment commander of the 237th Engineer Detachment, Madison, Wisconsin. "But there have been improvements, as we can now identify the design flaws in equipment and rectify them in in our re-fit program for the detachments."
For the firefighters of these engineer detachments, unity is considered essential to success.
"It's a brotherhood," said Staff Sgt. Maurice Holdsworth, a controller-observer-trainer (OC/T) from the 513th Engineer Detachment, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. "It's great to see these Soldiers working together, making sure they have good communication and teamwork with each other, and that they understand and learn different techniques. If the [firefighters] don't evolve and become stagnant, then they're going to get someone hurt while on call."
Moreover, equipment readiness is vital among firefighter detachments, especially since the perilous nature of this line of work leaves very little room for margin of error.
Without any mechanics who can diagnose these equipment issues and fix them, we would never know the specifics of our problems, Timm said.
The types of training exercises done at CSTX include fire suppression of burning vehicles and jet fuel pits, search and rescue maneuvers, and live fire engagements in burn towers.
"We train as if someone's life depended on it," Holdsworth explained. "The training that these Soldiers are getting is above and beyond what we do on a normal basis."
The array of equipment utilized in these scenarios is equally impressive as well, ranging from the M1142 Tactical Fire Fighting Truck (TFFT), the M1158 High Mobility Water Tender Truck (HEWATT), flame retardant suits, high-pressure fire hoses capable of pressures exceeding over 300 pounds per square inch, breaching tools and other supplementary devices not listed.
"The M1142 TFFT is a multipurpose, firefighting apparatus that's used for wild land, structural, and aircraft firefighting operations," said McDoniel. "Meanwhile, the M1158 HEWATT completes the package with the TFFT, so together, both hold about 3,500 gallons of water on wheel along with 60 gallons of foam for the HEWATT."
These firefighting training events at CSTX would have not been possible if it weren't for the expert coordination, pre-planning, and implementation processes that were configured by senior leaders and supervisors on the ground.
"The instructors here have dialed it in," said Master Sgt. Michael Havlovic, a senior engineering supervisor with the 361st Training Support Battalion from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. "They're taking their time with these Soldiers and doing the crawl-walk-run type of training that the military stresses upon."
The Soldiers performing these exercises share Havlovic's sentiment as well.
"The instructors here really know what they're doing and what they're talking about," said Sgt. Gilbert Casas, a firefighter from the 463rd Engineer Detachment, Houston, Texas. "We're getting a lot of team building and trust in each other."
A few of the Soldiers here who are firefighters in the civilian sector as well can attest to the quality of training being conducted here at CSTX.
"I like the training here more than I do on my civilian job so far because it's more intense," said Sgt. Andrea Gilchrist, a firefighter from the 323rd Engineer Detachment, El Dorado, Kansas, who is also employed as an airport firefighter in Wichita, Kansas.
"The training itself is phenomenal, and you can't get any better than this," Casas concluded.
The firefighter detachments began their training exercise here Aug. 11 with the majority of the detachments completing the training through Aug. 25 during CSTX. CSTX is a multi-component exercise designed to immerse units into a tactical environment that replicates what they would experience on a real-world mission.