NEWS | Dec. 13, 2010

Multinational training enhances firefighting capabilities throughout Central America

By Capt. John T. Stamm Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

U.S. forces stationed at Soto Cano, in full partnership with Central American governments, routinely conduct training and missions to support security, stability and prosperity throughout the region.

From Dec. 6-9, the 612th Air Base Squadron and Joint Task Force Bravo hosted firefighters from Honduras and El Salvador in the Central America Sharing Mutual Operational Knowledge and Experiences firefighting training exercise.

CENTAM SMOKE - is a week-long, quarterly event that comprises training in personal protective equipment, self-contained breathing apparatuses, fire hose evolutions, aircraft and structural fire operations, helicopter egress techniques, and medical and medical evacuation procedures.

According to Mr. Herberth Gaekel, the base fire inspector and one of the instructors, the exercises are conducted in a cohesive and unified environment, and facilitate information sharing between US Forces and Central American firefighters, increasing the mutual aid posture.

"The main purpose for this training is sharing of knowledge," Mr. Gaekel said. "We focus on safety and the proper use of equipment."

One of the first training events was the "Fireman's Challenge," where each firefighter had to overcome a series of obstacles they would likely encounter in a real firefighting situation. Participants tested their strength and endurance by climbing ladders, crawling through confined spaces, carrying a fire hose up flights of stairs, and numerous other physically demanding tasks all while wearing full protective gear.

"We (612th ABS firefighters) have a gym and a physical training program," Mr. Gaekel said. "The Central Americans don't always have that advantage. This course gives them a sense of where their fitness (levels are) at, how physically demanding firefighting is, and we offer them suggestions on how to improve."

Not only does CENTAM SMOKE strengthen the firefighters, the program also strengthens friendships and enhances cooperation.

"The December 2010 CENTAM SMOKE was a landmark in cooperation among the US, Honduras and El Salvador firefighting communities," said. Lt. Col. David Cade, 612th ABS commander. "The El Salvadoran participation, which is key to enhancing regional firefighting capabilities, was only possible because of the coordination and assistance graciously rendered by Honduran officials."

To date, CENTAM SMOKE has conducted exercises with 490 Honduran, 10 Guatemalan and 10 El Salvadoran firefighters.