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Firefighters exchange knowledge, experience

By Tech. Sgt. William Farrow | Joint Task Force-Bravo public affairs | Feb. 22, 2008

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras — More than 30 Honduran military and civilian firefighters converged at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras for a subject matter expert exchange allowing both nation's firefighters to pass along experiences, knowledge and the latest in firefighting tactics, techniques and procedures Feb. 19-22.

The exchange is a learning exposition for all the firefighters involved, and hundreds of firefighters from fire departments across Honduras have participated over the last two years.

According to 2nd Lt. Arturo Sevilla, an officer with Tegucigalpa's Fire Department, the exchange exponentially increases the capabilities of fire departments throughout Honduras.

"The exchange enhances our (Honduran fire department) capabilities and is informative for our firefighters because most of the 20 civilian firemen attending the exchange are in-house trainers at their fire departments," Lieutenant Sevilla said. "New procedures or experiences picked up during this exchange are passed on to hundreds of other firefighters throughout the country."

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Graver, JTF-Bravo firefighter and exchange coordinator, said since most of the Honduran firemen attending are primarily structural firefighters, expanding their scope of capabilities is important for their growth as firefighters.

"We exchange information concerning structural firefighting, but we also get into rescue operation, land navigation and wildland firefighting operations too," Sergeant Graver explained.

He said the practical land navigation portion, instructed by a combination of U.S. and Honduran military search and rescue teams, takes place throughout the mountainous countryside.

"Because most of the wild land fires in Honduras are in remote locations, the fire fighters must hike to get to the fire, so the SAR team comprised of Honduran air force, and U.S. Army and Air Force members help firefighters read maps, use compasses and operate hand-held Global Positioning Satellite systems," he said.

According to Sergeant Graver, land navigation and wild fire fighting procedures are a prominent focus for the firefighters because during the dry season, wildfires are prevalent in Honduras, just as they are in the United States.

However, Sergeant Graver said an even level of significance is directed toward each portion of the exchange.

"For structural fires, the emphasis is on self preservation, saving lives and understanding structural integrity of burning buildings. In fighting aircraft fires we're really concerned personnel extraction and fuel sources and running-fuel fires, which can spread fire extremely fast," Sergeant Graver explained.

The exchange culminated with a controlled fire at the "burn house," a two-level training structure constructed of concrete and metal. To make the experience of entering a burning building as realistic as possible, firefighters start a controlled fire burning inside which provides a smoky atmosphere and temperatures of 900 degrees at the fire's base and 1400 at the ceiling. Firefighters enter the structure two at a time and put water on the fire using a high pressure fire hose. Firefighters also climb stairs to the second level and retrieve a human-sized dummy weighing more than 150 pounds.

"This is the first experience I've ever had in a burn house," said La Paz firefighter Edulman Coliadres. "I'm impressed with how realistic the environment is and I hope to go back to La Paz and find a way to get a burn house built there, because operating in realistic conditions like that would provide excellent training to our new firefighters."

The week-long exchanges have occurred 10 times the last two years and the next ones for 2008 are set for March, June, August and October.