Firefighters conquer fears, learn life-saving skills

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Katherine Holt
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
For the 12 students of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Fire Academy, their final evaluation was a true test of personal strength and perseverance.

"We were going into a constricted space with an inch of room while fully dressed in all our gear," said Senior Airman Jodeci Mitchell, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter out of Spangdahlem, Germany. "Going in there was stressful, but I knew I had to remain calm and patient."

The firefighters were given a two-hour time limit. Their task, rescue a trapped maintenance worker, a 50-pound instructional dummy, from a building billowing with smoke. With no time to waste, the incident commander took charge and got the team started in an organized and timely manner.

"Being the lowest ranking firefighter with the job of the incident commander, made me a little nervous," said Airman 1st Class Christopher Hatch, 48th CES firefighter out of RAF Lakenheath, England. "But it didn't matter who was in charge; we had a great group of guys and it was really a team effort."

The students moved with a purpose as they put together their elevated anchoring point and prepared to lower in their rescue team.

In full gear, the first two-man team went in to look for their victim. After searching one floor, they came up empty handed. The second team was geared up and ready to take on the task.

"It was nerve racking being in there, but you have to do what you have to do," said Senior Airman Preston Castillo, 31st CES out of Aviano, Italy. "This is something I never thought I would be doing, but I just inch-wormed my way around and took breaks when I needed to."

The second two-man rescue team found the victim, and firefighters working the belay systems on the elevated anchoring point were able to successfully bring him to safety under the set time limit.

"The class did a great job," said Staff Sgt. Winston Jerez, USAFE Fire Academy instructor. "To see them run a full operation after starting the course with only a little knowledge, is what I love most about his job."

The USAFE Fire Academy, housed at the 435th Construction and Training Squadron compound, is comprised of five instructors responsible for teaching three different courses: Silver Flag, Firefighter Rescue and Emergency Medical Technician.

The Firefighter Rescue Course is a 120-hour course included classroom education and practical applications consisting of water rescue awareness, technical rope rescues and confined space rescues.

"The students who are chosen for this course are the cream of the crop of Air Force firefighters," said Tech. Sgt. James Hickman, USAFE Fire Academy NCOIC. "This training is a privilege and will help these firefighters gain new skills that are fundamental for their job."

Students also used different technical rope procedures including a controlled zip-line system, rescuing victims by ascending and descending buildings using rope and pulley systems. Additionally, firefighters were educated on the National Instant Management System, a federal program that standardizes communication for emergency workers in crises

"Teaching repelling and ascending is my favorite part of being an instructor," said Staff Sgt. Sean Cantrell, USAFE Fire Academy instructor. "Getting a student to work through their fear of heights, and showing them what they are capable of is such a rewarding experience."

Students reciprocated the feeling.

"I conquered fears with this class," said Mitchell. "I never thought I would be hanging from a building upside down, but I did it. We did it. Now we are fire rescue tech certified."