MWSS-373 fire brigade on alert to combat flames

20 Sep 2004 | Cpl. Joel A. Chaverri

The formidable job of both preparing for and extinguishing the fiery danger presented by hazards such as plane crashes, incoming mortar shells and improvised explosive devices here belongs to the aircraft, rescue and firefighting specialists from Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

According to Staff Sgt. Eric H. Johnston, fire chief, ARFF section, MWSS-373, while deployed, the responsibility of the blaze-battlers expands into a three-part operation.

"Not only are we in charge of aircraft crashes, but also the fire safety of the structural aspects on base and vehicle accidents, including IED's," he explained.

In the few weeks he has served since arriving here in August, Johnston, a native of Fairfield, Calif., has experienced quite a bit of action.

"We've had four major (emergency) calls in two weeks," said the 29-year-old. "That's a lot for a small unit like us."

Composed of a total of five Marines and four Soldiers, the firefighters must dedicate nearly every waking hour to ensuring they are equipped for any mission.
"Every morning we do an inspection of the fire trucks and check our equipment," said Johnston. "It's important that we stay prepared."

Since the servicemembers live and work in the same small firehouse, they are able to provide perpetual service in a timely manner, without relying on a set duty schedule.

"Because our job is so important, there are no work shifts," said Johnston. "We're always together (and ready around-the-clock) just in case we get a call."

To guarantee a quick response at the flight line here, a small team of ARFF personnel monitors the landing surface, constantly on the lookout for a possible aircraft crash.

"Having a few of our (firefighters) always on duty near the flight line speeds up the reaction time of our unit," said Johnston.

Amongst the hot situations the section has faced in recent days was a structure fire here that forced the ARFF Marines and Soldiers to work overtime to defeat it.

"(The tent fire) was the most challenging fires we've fought since we've been here," conceded Sgt. Warren N. Anderson, aircraft, firefighting and rescue specialist, MWSS-373. "It took us almost an hour to finally put it out."

Although the firefighters constantly prepare themselves to handle scorching conditions, the sight of the devastation and destruction fire is capable of inflicting can often be unsettling.

"We're always training to fight fires, but seeing a real fire in person is a big reality shock," said Anderson, a 24-year-old native of Kelso, Wash.

Portions of ARFF training includes learning how to extinguish fuel fires in desert environments, as well as utilizing specialized equipment like the "'Jaws of Life," a tool used to pry open vehicles and aircraft in order to free passengers trapped inside.

"Firefighting requires a lot of hard work," said 19-year-old Ft. Dodge, Iowa, native Lance Cpl. Alex J. Kennebeck, aircraft, rescue and firefighting specialist, MWSS-373, "but it's important that we get our job right to help protect (our fellow troops)."