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Firefighters Take on the Tower

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Peter Reft
  • 18 Wing Public Affairs
Sirens and alarms assaulted the senses inside the claustrophobic stairwell of the 13-floor tower as firefighters raced to the top, donning 60 pounds of protective gear in addition to hoses, casualty chairs , axes, and tools. With the deep hiss of each breath from respirator masks, every laborious heave of their boots brought them one step closer to saving the lives of victims trapped in smoke and flames.

Kadena firefighters conducted a fire evacuation drill in the air traffic control tower as part of weekly training to constantly hone and sharpen rescue skills.

“We had an exercise inject for smoke at the top of the tower with victims inside,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Hayes, 18th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department crew chief. “We had to go inside, take the stairs up there, and go check each room to find the victims.”

Fire crews carried out the dummy victims while guiding out Airmen who could walk on their own. Meanwhile, fire engines stood by with extra equipment.

“We had two engines set up,” said Hayes. “Engine 22 came for resupply operations while engine nine and the crew went inside to attack any possible fire.”

Firefighters must become familiar with every building type on base in order to better prepare themselves for emergencies, and the air traffic control tower is no exception.

“The importance of this kind of training is knowing how to enter the facility, the major floors inside this tower that we need worry about, how many personnel there are, and more importantly, how to get them out of the building safely,” said Hayes.

After the exercise, both firefighters and control tower personnel held a briefing to evaluate everybody’s performance. Airmen helped each other point out any improvements to implement in future situations.

“It’s good that we’re able to identify our mistakes during these exercises, because we’re going to learn from them and not make errors during a real emergency” said Tech. Sgt. Billy Parham, 18th CES assistant chief of training. “Every day we’re preaching the most important thing – life safety.”

Hayes felt the exercise went well, and was especially beneficial to the new Airmen.

“This was the first time for a lot of us going into the tower and actually, on the job, figuring out what to do during an emergency, [especially] if there was smoke, fire, and victims to carry,” said Hayes.

The newest member of the team, Airman First Class Omar Lopez, 18th CES firefighter, expressed how the training made him focus on making sure to stick with his crew chief and follow directions to support the team.

He continued with acknowledging the importance of staying ready for anything.

“Every day we have to study, ask our supervisors about emergency scenarios, and make sure we can be aware of different situations,” said Lopez. “We physically train as a squadron three days a week, we train while we’re on duty, and on our own.”

Kadena firefighters never stop training and maintaining constant readiness day and night, 365 days a year.

“This tower exercise was a culmination of each different aspect of training we do. Usually we’ll do aircraft and structural exercises twice a week,” said Hayes. "All the other training we do on a daily basis keeps us sharp."