By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAONovember 10, 2009
BAGHDAD - An Iraqi firefighter feigns death and lies on the ground inside of a mock building to simulate a smoke-inhalation victim. His teammates, their vision obscured to simulate smoke-blindness, crawl along the ground with oxygen tanks strapped to their backs.
All of a sudden, Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment scream at the trainees to recreate the chaos inside in a burning building.
"You gotta respect the fire," admitted Spc. Kevin Fregia, a hazardous materials specialist. "Yeah, you're going to be scared, but you gotta have confidence and the knowledge to do what you have to do."
This is all part of a firefighting class at Joint Security Station Ur that Fregia, and another Soldier with a firefighting background, held, Nov. 8, for nearly 20 Iraqi firefighters from the 29th Center for Defense, based just west of Sadr City, here.
The class taught the Iraqis how to properly don and use their equipment, feel for back drafts on a door, enter a burning building, find and recover victims, and how to extinguish a blaze with a fire hose, explained Cpl. John Curtis, a combat medic from Lisbon, Maine.
"Some of the things we taught them, like the technical stuff, they weren't too comfortable with," added Curtis. "But after running through some scenarios a few times, they were good."
Curtis, the lead instructor for the course, added that even though these Iraqis have been working as firefighters for a few years in some cases, he wanted to focus on their equipment first.
"You want to make sure they know how to use it and how it works," he continued. "Then run them through a few scenarios and let them problem solve before we make corrections...Next, we blindfolded them with bags that simulates smoke and a fire, so they have to really feel around and communicate with each other."
The Iraqis were eager to learn and jumped in at every opportunity to ask questions and display what they have learned in the past.
"Actually, being able to see them use their own gear and knowledge with me just pushing them along the way is a great feeling," said Curtis. "I've seen a lot of improvement today...If you get the tactical and technical aspects down, then you're going to have confidence to go in there and save some lives."
Curtis knows this from firsthand experience. He has been around firefighters all his life; his father was on the fire department and he joined as a volunteer when he was only 16 years old. After becoming a certified firefighter, he attended special classes such as water and vehicle rescue before joining the military.
From his experiences, Curtis knows that the right training can be the difference between saving a victim or becoming one.
"One of these guys may save somebody else's life or their own life with the training that we're giving them," said Fregia, a native of Orange, Texas, who has over ten years of firefighting experience.
"It feels great to pass on your knowledge to other people," he continued. "This training is the greatest feeling to teach them something you know that they wouldn't have gotten elsewhere."
According to Hussan Nawim Hussein, who has been fighting fires in Baghdad since 2005, the incidents they deal with are fires from oil wells, buildings, homes, but mostly explosions.
"I'm never scared because it's my job," said Hussan. "The main goal is to save people's lives and I feel brave and very proud because I've saved some people's lives."
Hussan and his fellow firefighters agreed that the U.S. Soldiers taught them all something helpful.
"I think they were having a lot of fun and learning a lot, they would have stayed all day if they could have," said Fregia.
"I've seen a lot of improvement," agreed Curtis. "We're really not providing them with anything except for knowledge."
Both instructors worked together to change up the scenarios and let different firefighters participate, but after a few hours, the radios crackled and the Iraqis received an emergency call.
"Doing firefighting, you got it in your blood," said Fregia as he watched them scramble to pack up their gear. "Seeing them get a call and take off; I wanted to go...But being able to pass off my knowledge and take care of them is a great feeling."
The firefighters from 29th Center for Defense quickly jumped on their fire engines, flipped on flashing red lights and sped off to put their newly-honed skills into use, hopefully saving lives in a trial by fire.