908th vice commander training day with firefighters

  • Published
  • By Col. Jimmie Brooks
  • 908th Airlift Wing
Almost every boy has a childhood dream of becomng a firefighter when he grows up. Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think that I would have the opportunity to be a firefighter this late in my Air Force career!  So you can imagine the excitement I felt when I was offered the opportunity to participate as a member of our 908th Airlift Wing firefighting team, while they conducted an exercise during the November UTA.

This fire drill started at an abandoned dormitory on Maxwell Air Force Base. I showed up and was greeted by our 908th firefighters, who had arranged for a firefighting suit that would fit me. They helped me get into my boots and bib, and then pull on my nomex fire hood. Next came my firefighting jacket, and oxygen bottle harness that went on my back. Finally I put on my oxygen mask and goggles, helmet, and gloves. This process, with their assistance, took me approximately five minutes. When I asked them what their standard was for putting the suit on, they told me that they must do it in under 60 seconds! Wow...

After suiting up, we boarded 5 firefighters into the large pumper truck, and drove to a remote part of the base and waited for our radio dispatch call. When the call came in, the driver turned on the siren, and we raced to the location of the fire.

Upon arrival at the fire scene, we briefly stopped by the fire hydrant to hook up the main fire hose, then the firefighter jumped back in the truck and we continued driving to the emergency site. Upon arrival, we jumped out of the truck and assembled our three-man emergency team that would enter the smoky building.

As we pulled the fire hose off of the truck, it filled with water, and became extremely heavy. The three of us grabbed the hose and went to search the building for any victims. Our first priority was to find any victims and the second priority was to extinguish the fire.  I must admit, I was shocked at how heavy the hose was!
As we entered the smoky room, the visibility was zero. To be honest, I could not even see the firefighter in front of me, and he was only three feet away! We got down on our hands and knees to avoid any extreme heat temperatures that would be in the room where a fire was.  This was very challenging since we also had to carry a very heavy water hose.

After a thorough search of the room, we found the victim, and, as a team, took him outside to safety. After that, we re-entered the smoky room to fight the fire. Under extremely poor visibility conditions, we were able to locate the source of the fire and extinguish it!

After the emergency was over, our team assembled outside for a debriefing, just like a flight crew does after a flight. We talked about the lessons learned. First of all I was shocked at how extremely physically demanding our task was to find the victim and extinguish the fire. It was very difficult to breathe in my oxygen mask while my heartbeat was racing.   The physical demands of crawling on my hands and knees while carrying the heavy and stiff water hose was tremendous!  While I have handled many emergency situations in the cockpit, I was not prepared for the challenges that I would meet in that smoky room.

After the completion of the exercise, I walked away from the scene with newfound respect for our firefighters. The weather condition for us was cool and light rain. I can only imagine how hard it would be for a firefighter who was fighting a fire in the middle of July, in summertime heat conditions, for many hours!  It is truly amazing what our firefighters do to save equipment and lives for the Air Force. I am proud to serve with them, and have them on our team!