SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Firefighters and other emergency responders from Soto Cano Air Base and the local city of Comayagua practiced responding to an industrial fire today, during an exercise held at the Unilever Industrial Plant near Comayagua, Honduras.
The Unilever plant produces soap products for export throughout Central America and to the Dominican Republic. Though the plant boasts an impressive safety record, claiming over 2 million hours without accidents, its proximity to Soto Cano and Comayagua made it an ideal place for U.S. and Honduran firefighters to train together.
The exercise scenario involved a large storage tank being on fire with two victims nearby in need of rescue and medical attention. With sirens blaring and lights flashing - and with the assistance of police from Soto Cano and Comayagua - both fire departments arrived at the plant simultaneously and got right to work.
Firefighters who could not communicate through language soon found they had enough common ground to work together.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Johnson, of the 612th Air Base Squadron fire department, attended to one of the exercise victims (a training dummy) with a counterpart from Comayagua's fire department.
"In a situation like this, we come on the scene and designate who does what," Sergeant Johnson said. "Someone goes to the victims, some people attack the fire. What I found working with the Hondurans is that as long as you're a firefighter we all have the same tactics - it doesn't matter if it's here, in Afghanistan, or on the moon. Firefighters are firefighters and we can work together to get the job done."
One of the Comayagua firefighters agreed, and stressed the importance of the training to him and his department.
"I feel very good, because it is a good experience for us to work together with the Soto Cano fire department," said Jose Saravia, a Comayagua firefighter. "We were waiting for this opportunity, and I think we could even do it more often than we do, because it's so important to train together."
The ability to work together has proven very important in several instances this year, according to the commander of the Soto Cano firefighters.
"Events like this help exercise the joint interoperability between Honduran and U.S. firefighters - which has proven important in recent events like the museum fire in downtown Comayagua and the tanker truck spill earlier this year, where we worked together in real-world emergencies," said Lt. Col. Lawrence Torres, 612th Air Base Squadron commander.
"This type of hard work, training, and cooperation is one example of why the Soto Cano fire department was selected as Air Combat Command's Small Base Fire Department of the Year for 2009."