Baghdad Brotherhood - Air Force firefighters train Iraqis

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Amanda Callahan
  • 447th Air Expeditionary Group public affairs
A sea of silver bunker gear forms as firefighters waste no motion while swiftly helping one another adjust masks and don air tanks. Thick, black smoke billows out of a nearby building, and the firefighters line up to man hoses, rescue the injured and keep a close eye on each other.

It is not until the last ember is suffocated, and helmets and masks are removed that one realizes this isn't the average group of first responders. The soot covered firemen come from different sides of the runway ... not to mention different parts of the world.

The 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron's fire department at Sather Air Base, Iraq, started training local Iraqi firefighters about three years ago. The Air Force firemen work with nearly 130 firefighters from New Al Muthanna Air Base and the Baghdad International Airport at least three times a week. The training includes classroom lectures and live-fire exercises.

To teach the Iraqi firemen, many of the Air Force firefighters use the training they received through the Department of Defense Louis F. Garland Fire Training Academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. In addition to the technical knowledge gained through the academy, the fringe benefits of going to a joint technical school play an important role for the firefighters.

"Fire school, along with the military, teaches teamwork and working with others from outside areas," said Staff Sgt. Grant Gimpel, one of the 447th fireman. "Goodfellow's fire academy incorporates all the services of the (Department of Defense), and this is one area that helps out when training with the Iraqi firefighters."

Initially, the U.S. firefighters faced a challenge many Americans training Iraqis have had to overcome -- the ever present language barrier.

"We have interpreters to help with that, but it's still difficult to figure out what each other is saying," said fireman Tech. Sgt. Paul Jacques.

They overcome by using hand signals, learning bits of each other's languages and using the translators.

According to firefighter Tech. Sgt. Michael Morgan, the training they provide to the Iraqis is in compliance with the National Fire Protection Agency 1001 because risk management is a priority for the trainers.

"It is through careful planning that we ensure the safety of the trainees and trainers," Morgan said. Because everyone involved realizes that "even a training event can get out of hand, and someone could get hurt."

Ultimately, the goal is to provide the training the Iraqi firefighters need to stand on their own, according to Senior Master Sgt. Michael Brown, the 447th ECES fire chief, who is serving his third rotation there.

"These guys embrace the chance to help the Iraqi firefighters create their own independent fire protection," Brown said. "We've got a lot of hard-charging, committed professionals; and with their knowledge and expertise, we are able to transfer that knowledge to the Iraqis."

Chief Raad, Baghdad International Airport fire chief, appreciates the training and the live-fire exercises his American counterparts provide.

"We need exercises (like this) to make us proficient," Raad said.

The Iraqi fire chief also told of the good relationship the firefighters have and the cooperation and support he receives from the American firemen.
"We're the same family, same job," he said. "There's no military, no air force ... just brother firemen."