MCAS BEAUFORT S.C. --
Station Aircraft Rescue Firefighters participated in a controlled burn training exercise in the hot pit training area Aug. 23.
The training is conducted monthly and gives the Marines the opportunity to work with fire created by jet fuel.
“The [MOS] school house uses propane that you can just turn on and off,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael C. Day, Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting training chief. “Here, there is no on/off switch.”
Station fire fighters put on their distinctive silver suits, reminiscent of futuristic space suits. The gear is not intended to be fashionable; it’s rated to withstand up to 2100 degrees of heat.
“This gear is different than what they use for structural fires,” Day explained. While the traditional suit many are used to seeing is very thick with the Kevlar layer on the outside, aircraft rescue firemen wear a suit that reflects heat away from their bodies due to the intense radiant heat generated by burning fuels. Day said the fire in the hot pit can get up to 1800 degrees.
Along with the reflective suit, the firefighters also use a separate breathing apparatus attached to a canister that provides them fresh oxygen as they navigate through the many dangerous chemicals generated from burning fuels and materials.
“Each canister is rated for [about] and hour,” training chief Gunnery Sgt. Day said. “But … sometimes they can go through a can in as little as 15 minutes.” The air regulators can be adjusted to flow a steady stream in order to cool the Marines’ faces during the blaze. Otherwise the Marines will only get a blast of oxygen when they inhale a breath.
The Marines battling the blaze use a vast amount of energy pushing the fire away the mock jet’s cockpit in order to train for rescuing the pilot in a real life scenario.
“The most important training skill we’re trying to instill in troops is how to effectively extinguish an aircraft fire,” said Sgt. Kenneth Kohler, ARFF assistant section leader. “We teach them proper technique on how to extinguish it and to build and maintain stamina because we’re in the gear for hours at a time.”
Station firefighters also use the training exercise to work together as one cohesive unit.
“It’s one of the few times we get to work with the other sections,” said Kohler.
Lance Cpl. Riley M. Sanchez, P-19 driver, agreed that the camaraderie of working with the entire ARFF staff was his favorite thing about the training.
Sanchez also shared that his main motivation for choosing to be an aircraft rescue fireman was to gain the skills necessary to transition to the civilian sector to serve his local community once he’s done serving his country.
“A lot of our guys, whether they do four or 20 [years] get out and join fire departments,” Day said. “All our training is nationally accredited so it’s highly transferrable. We’re fortunate that we have one of those jobs that transfer to civilian life.”
As the crew packed up to leave, the pit was cooled down and the Marines loaded onto their trucks. The exercise was deemed a success.