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News | Feb. 10, 2020

Central American, US firefighters grow competencies, partnerships

By Martin Chahin JTF-Bravo Public Affairs

Like past years going back more than a decade, Joint Task Force-Bravo welcomed 25 Central American firefighters from Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Honduras to be trained during a biannual iteration of CENTAM SMOKE – a firefighting exercise that runs five days at Soto Cano Air Base.

Though this exercise involves many of the same countries each year, every iteration brings new  participants to train on life-saving skills. Classes are taught by members of the Soto Cano Fire Department – part of the 612th Air Base Squadron – to strengthen competencies for each of the participants and to learn from one another different techniques used in each country. The result is firefighters who share a common understanding of their craft and who are ready to facilitate future operations with coherent unity of effort.

“Our instructors are experts in the field of fighting structural fires, aircraft fires, and technical rescue of passengers,” said Master Sgt. Kyle Dobler, CENTAM SMOKE director. “To give an example, two of our instructors participating in this training are instructors of the U. S. Air Force Fire Fighting Academy in Europe. This shows the level of knowledge of our instructors for the benefit of the participants.”

During the week of training, participants practiced security techniques, good use of personal equipment, structural fires and aircraft fires. They were able to familiarize themselves with equipment and receive first-responder medical training.

“This is the first time that I am in this kind of training, and I am very grateful for being here,” said Silvia Lemus, a Guatemalan firefighter and exercise participant. “This training is of vital importance because we will do things better in our countries – and even better, when several countries are being trained.  Now we return to our country to teach what we learned here.”

In 13 years, JTF-Bravo has trained over 800 members of the Central American fire corps, making the work done in each country more efficient and forming a group of connected professionals more prepared to jointly face regional disasters.

“This training matters only if you take the skills we’ve gained together and share them with your teams,” said Col. Steve Barry, JTF-Bravo commander. “When you spread best practices, the value of this training is exponential. I sleep more soundly knowing we have an interconnected community of firefighters in this region who share a common understanding of their craft and who are ready to facilitate future operations with coherent unity of effort.”