USAF, ROKAF, Songtan firefighter training strengthens partnerships

by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Sutton
51st Fighter Wing PAO

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea  -- Firefighters from the 51st Civil Engineer Squadron recently hosted a fire-training event Aug. 26 for members of the Republic of Korea air force and Songtan fire stations.
The two-fold goal of the event was to strengthen partnerships and provide unique training for all involved.

"It's very important for us to train with our mutual-aid partners and practice aircraft accident firefighting techniques," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Haenelt, 51st CES assistant chief of fire prevention. "This is a unique training opportunity and it's nice to know we can count on our Korean partners in the event of a large-scale emergency."

During emergencies and humanitarian assistance operations, a strong relationship between first-responders is vital to ensuring safety for the entire community explained Haenelt.

"The live-fire aircraft training was a great opportunity for us to work with Osan Airmen and also practice skills necessary to continue our partnership here," said Jun Hyung Lim, Songtan fire station firefighter.

The events are part of a mutual-aid agreement with the local fire departments.

"Today's training was fantastic and the Korean firefighters definitely enjoyed themselves while practicing their skills," said Staff Sgt. Michael White, 51st CES crew chief. "We ensure they are familiar and capable of following proper procedures when fighting aircraft fires."

In the event of an aircraft emergency off-base, this training will assist local firefighters in safely containing and putting out any fire which could potentially occur.

"This was the first time I have had the opportunity to work with local firefighters," said White. "I had a really great time working side-by-side with them."

The Songtan firefighters first trained on a simulated fuel fire which was outside of the training cargo aircraft.

"This allows firefighters the opportunity to practice sweeping the fire away from the aircraft," said White. "There is always a possibility that occupants are trying to leave the aircraft and we need to practice pushing that fire away from them while they are getting to safety."

Next, the practice aircraft is lit up to test how the firefighters handle extinguishing fires outside the simulated crashed aircraft, then inside the cockpit where pilots are and finally, inside the cargo area to try and save or recover any equipment.

"A running fuel fire is very dangerous because any aircraft that crashes will leak or run fuel in all directions around the crash site," said Haenelt. "There is usually so much excess fuel around the crash site that in order for us to safely get the personnel out we have to extinguish those fires first. This is very common and a valuable skill for all firefighters to have."

After the initial fire is out, the firefighters continue to spray the burn site until all the hot spots were gone and all the flames were out. This process, known as overhaul, is used to ensure the fire won't start back up.

"We have to be able to work together, communicate and function as a team during potential real-world emergencies," said Haenelt. "This training allows us the ability to practice that and demonstrate our capabilities in the event of a disaster."

The firefighters work in teams to put out the fires. Two groups train at the same time, each manning a specific hose with specific instructions.

"Everyone knows their responsibilities and is determined to eliminate these fires," said Haenelt. "This is extremely useful training... these are our friends, coworkers and neighbors. Natural disasters or even war-time situations can occur without warning and we need to have a strong working relationship with the local community and the ROKAF in order to respond effectively to any situation."

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