SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Fire and Emergency Services at Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, N.C., assigned to the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's 596th Transportation Brigade, hosted their first Shipboard Firefighting class June 4-8.
The class included 14 students from five North Carolina fire departments. Six MOTSU firefighters were trained and certified -- five at the instructor level, meaning they can now train newly assigned personnel in-house, versus sending them to costly training at another facility.

The pilot program was added as a new cost-saving element to the department's training program, saving approximately $3,500 per firefighter at MOTSU and another $750 per firefighter at the brigade's west coast ammunition port, Military Ocean Terminal Concord, Calif.

"Our biggest gain was the ability to train with and certify firefighters from our mutual aid departments. If we have another ship fire, like the Carter in 2001, we will again have to rely on this mutual aid. Next time, however, our mutual aid will have better knowledge and understanding of working in these elements." said MOTSU Fire Department Training Officer Duane Eastmond.

Upon successful completion of the course, students are nationally certified and able to apply the principles of shipboard fire fighting strategy and tactics, marine communications, incident management, and hazardous materials incident mitigation.

According to firefighter Ryan Witschen, shipboard firefighting is a vital skill for firefighters at a military ammunition port.

"It was the most intense firefighting I've done," said Witschen, "It's completely different from a house fire. In a house fire you can use your tools to breach a wall to escape if you need to. On a ship, there's no other way out. It's very dark, very hot, you're surrounded by metal--the only option is to fight the fire."

Additionally, MOTSU's approach to fighting a shipboard fire is similar to a hazardous materials response. According to Eastmond, it is a slow, methodical approach, unlike that of a structure fire, and requires specialized training.

Shipboard firefighting certification at the instructor level is the final step to accredit the MOTSU firefighting training program, allowing the certification of personnel in-house and thereby eliminating costly training requirements.