A Look at Crash Fire Rescue

A Look at Crash Fire Rescue

Marines assigned to Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting extinguish a blaze from a mobile aircraft firefighting training device aboard Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay. Photo by Cpl Matthew Callahan.

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii (Oct. 30, 2014) - "WATER!" bellowed a Marine clad in aluminized protective gear; water hose brandished and at the ready. His rescue man stood at his back, with one hand firmly gripping the slack of the fire hose and the other pointing at a rapidly growing blaze engulfing an aircraft.

The hand lineman spun his forearm, signaling the P-19 fire truck to feed him water.

Red, orange and yellow bloomed and danced across the two aircraft rescue firefighters' glistening suits as flames burst from the starboard side of the plane's fuselage and enveloped the wing engine.

The lead Marine fired up his hose and the two began sweeping the surrounding area with water, advancing on the inferno.

Marines with Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting, assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, trained in nighttime three-dimensional firefighting Oct. 30, 2014.

The ARFF Marines used the mobile aircraft fire training device to simulate what it would be like to fight fire in a real-world emergency situation.

The device, fueled by propane, can be ignited in multiple locations, giving Marines fighting the controlled blaze the opportunity to tackle aircraft flames in multiple scenarios.

"Everyone has to be on the same page; as a whole; as a unit," said Cpl Alex Blackwell, an ARFF Marine with the unit and Fort Knox, Ky., native, stressing the vitality of communication in a tense scenario. "Otherwise, things won't go smoothly if something (like a crash) actually happens."

Blackwell said the night's events were simulating engine and fuselage fires.

"Our number one job is life safety and to protect property." Blackwell said. "In this instance, we'd want to cool the aircraft so we could save as much of the (airframe) as possible and (limit) the fire's threat to personnel inside the aircraft."

When Marines are battling fires, they wear what's called proximity gear, akin to what astronauts use to reduce the absorption and maximize the reflection of heat. Aluminized Polybenzimidazole, or PBI, makes up the bulk of the ARFF Marine's suit and can withstand extreme temperatures and acts to deflect heat away from firefighters. Gold-plated face shields also help to protect the Marines from the heat as they tackle fires.

SSgt Alexander Temple, the station captain for section one of ARFF an Eagle River, Alaska native, is the man in charge during an incident.

"My primary role in the event of an emergency is to be the incident commander," Temple said.

During the night training Temple said he purposefully limited his participation and instead observed.

"I kind of took a step back tonight and let my noncommissioned officers instruct the Marines through my intent," said Temple. "Tonight we were focusing on three-dimensional fires and learning different techniques to put out engine and fuel fires.

"I wanted the Marines to focus on changing their handling patterns of the hand line. '

When Marines are fighting real fires, they use a mixture of foam and water, which smothers the flames much more quickly than water alone. Temple said using different handling patterns are necessary to fight different kinds of fires.

For example, direct stream is required when extinguishing an engine fire whereas a less direct stream is required to "sweep" a fuel fire, he said.

Temple said his first real fire as a firefighter was stressful and gave him tunnel vision.

"The first time ... I was just completely focused on putting agent on the fire, because that's all I knew. Now as a section leader and having more experience, I've learned to focus on a full 360-degree (situation) ... and what each individual Marine is doing."

This 360-degree mentality encompasses everything from personnel, logistics to where the ARFF Marines fit in the bigger picture, according to Temple. 

At the conclusion of the fire training, the Marines packed their gear into their P-19 fire trucks and began walking back to the station to eat and rest. 

('Our Marines) did extremely well tonight," said Temple about the fire fighters' performance. "And they had fun doing it."

Temple said the most important part of training is not creating an environment where Marines are afraid to learn, but to create a space that's fun, professional and serious when it needs to be.

"When you're having fun and enjoying what you're doing, you're going to care about it, and you're going to learn more," Temple said.

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