In the heat of the moment
By Staff Sgt Matthew McGovern, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 26, 2007
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A C-5, trailing smoke and flames from an engine, makes an emergency landing at Travis.
Masked men in metallic grey suits immediately begin extinguishing the flames before they spread to the aircraft's fuel reserves.
To stay prepared for crisis of this kind, firefighters from Travis and the local community train on an aircraft mock-up on Travis' flightline.
"Firefighters that complete the training re-enforce more on the job skills than just putting the wet stuff on the red stuff," said Donald Richert, assistant fire chief. "They test their own physical capability while working in the most realistic training based scenario available."
According to Chief Richert, the aircraft mock-up is the only one of its kind in the local area, therefore Travis and the local community firefighters train together.
"We train with Fairfield, Vacaville and NASA Ames Research Center firefighters, some of which are in the Air Force Reserves," Chief Richert said.
During the training, firefighters practice crew continuity, accountability, fire attack methods and tactics.
Hydraulics calculations, hose line operations, agent application strategies and rescue methods are also included for firefighters to fall back on when needed in a real emergency.
"In the heat of the moment, everyone who works in a dynamic environment can attest that if faced with uncertainty in the field, they will revert back to what they learned in their last training session. "That's why we conduct live fire training every quarter," he said.
The training prepares firefighters for the dangerous diversity of the real thing.
"No situation will ever be the same - there will always be a variance that we may not have addressed in our career field. However, if we remember safety and the way we train for the real thing, we will be able to navigate the situation while keeping our people safe and minimizing damage to government property," Chief Richert said.
Safety is coupled with teamwork according to Chief Richert. Firefighters always enter and exit any structure with, at a minimum, two personnel. They are also required to supply a rapid intervention team on a back up hose line to support the initial entry crews.
"It's a buddy system initially but you can feel secure in knowing that there are always two more fully trained firefighters standing by, watching your every move, ready to intervene at a moments notice if the situation deteriorates," Chief Richert said.
According to Amn Ryan Spangler, firefighter, teamwork is strengthened not only by intense training but also by the amount of time spent together during shifts.
"With our 24 hour on/off schedule, we're living together like family and we end up becoming close friends," said he said.
This close-knit group that lives, works and trains together may be scrambling at a moments notice to respond to dangerous flightline emergencies.
During an aircraft fire emergency, one of the most difficult aspects that test a firefighter's training is the large amount of fuel involved.
"Travis is unique, in the respect that every aircraft on the installation is assumed to be full of gas," Chief Richert said.
"The amount of heat and smoke that jet fuel fires generate is enough to burn for hours, consume mass amounts of resources and even transform titanium metal components into unrecognizable lumps of molten metal. The environmental hazard of all of this is unmatchable by any routine house fire and or wild land grass fire. This is why the air force supplies specialized training and equipment for the men and women working in the fire department," he added.
The importance of this specialized training was summed up by Airman Gregory Gawel, firefighter.
"All of the training we do is worth it if it enables us to save some ones life."