BAGHDAD - Sirens blared in a small parking lot as bystanders watched the newest graduates of the Iraqi Civil Defense Directorate Academy race to perform life-saving techniques.
Guests observed 25 graduates demonstrating their new firefighting skills at the conclusion of a graduation ceremony Feb. 17 inside the International Zone. The demonstration was designed to showcase the many aspects of the firefighter training.
As the demonstration began, fire engines stormed past the audience and whipped a U-turn in the tiny parking lot. A vehicle, intentionally set on fire, burned directly in front of the crowd as firefighters raced from their trucks.
Training grenades exploded nearby, startling the firefighters as they unfurled the hoses and hooked them into spigots in the ground.
Army Spc. Michael Burris and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Raul Rodriguez, both assigned to 414th Civil Affairs Battalion, 1st Armored Division, helped train the Iraqi firefighters.
"We're mainly here as advisors, teaching [the Iraqi firefighters] better firefighting tactics," said Rodriguez.
Soldiers of 414th focused on providing the Iraqis with help in the maintenance and upkeep of their equipment, insight on prior experiences, and different ways to maneuver around obstacles. They also built curriculum for the different courses, assisted with the organization and record-keeping of training, and most importantly, said Rodriguez, taught the proper wear of personal protective equipment and safety methods.
"Yes, they have a job to save lives," Rodriguez added, "but they first need to ensure they're taken care of and protected prior to entering a firefighting environment."
Each student underwent the basic firefighting course, but several other students also attended training in different courses, such as emergency rescue, hazardous material and explosive ordnance disposal.
The firefighters overcame many obstacles in the demonstration after weeks of training and guidance from U.S. forces.
During the demonstration, they sprayed water onto raging fires while EOD cordoned off an area and carefully handled a potential bomb threat. Medics assessed and evacuated the wounded and unconscious.
One of the participants in the ceremony was Iraqi Lt. Col. Lu'ai Mun'im Hamoody, the fire chief for Adhamiya Fire Department in northern Baghdad and an instructor for the Iraqi rescue teams.
In one scenario, fire crept up to the third floor, stranding victims on the roof. Lu'ai was able to rappel with one victim clamped to his harness off the side of the three-story building, saving the victim's life. Along with the rope rescue operation, other members of the rescue team set up a giant air cushion for the civilians still trapped on the rooftop.
Iraqi Col. Ali al-Ani, director of training for officers of civil defense at the academy, said the demonstration went well and that everything ran smoothly.
"Raul and Burris helped us to do this scenario, and they support our people in training," said Ali. "They give [the firefighters] a lot of their experiences."
"The Americans [provided] continuous support to both Iraqi Civil Defense and the Iraqi Air Force," said Lu'ai.
Ali said the graduation demonstration reflected more than just a culmination of training: "The training the firefighters [received] in our academy is reflected in our real lives on the streets."
As the demonstration concluded, an Iraqi firefighter proudly marched in front of the crowd waving the Iraqi flag.