Firefighting 101: Vance Fire Department heats things up for wing leaders

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tony Wickman
  • Public Affairs
It's the middle of the day and a klaxon bell rings out signaling a firefighter response is needed immediately because an airplane on the ramp is engulfed in flames.
Like a shot, firefighters race to put their personal protective equipment on and head to their vehicles. Each looks over at the other firefighters and ensures they are putting the finishing touches on their gear and conducting function checks as they race to the fire.
This is a scene Air Force firefighters must be prepared to respond at a moments notice and one the Vance fire department trains regularly for. On Aug. 22, Col. Bryan Benson, 71st Flying Training Wing commander, and Col. Christopher Thelen, 71st Mission Support Group commander, joined the action for hands-on training on how the fire department prepares for and responds to fires onboard aircraft.
For Colonel Benson, the training opportunity was up front and personal.
"The value of the training as the commander is to understand what these firefighters go through," Colonel Benson said. "They are willing to put their lives on the line when I go fly, so this allows me to see what they go through. It may be a training operation for them, but it is the 'Real McCoy' for me."
The training scenario for the day was to respond to a 1,800-degree fire onboard an aircraft. Prior to departing the fire station, all safety precautions and critical information was relayed to the firefighters about the training scenario.
Simulating the call to the fire, the training group suited up in personal protective gear and loaded into fire trucks to head to the airfield rescue firefighting training facility at the south end of Vance's runway.
Once the scene was set, the firefighters loaded onto the trucks and responded to the aircraft fire as if they came directly from the fire station.
The lead truck opened its fire suppression nozzles to douse the flame and clear an entry path for the firefighters to enter the aircraft.
According to Ken Foster, assistant fire chief, the trucks hold around 1,000 gallons of water, which is mixed with a firefighting agent called aqueous film forming foam that aids in fighting petroleum-based fires, and can dispense around 750 gallons between the roof and bumper turrets.
"They use the truck to get on the fire faster," said Mr. Foster. "They get a little more than a minute of firefighting time with the truck, but it helps protect the pilots and the plane until we get the crew inside."
Once on-scene, a crew sets up the hose and enters the aircraft, with temperatures varying between 1,200 and 1,800 degrees, to douse the flames.
After a few minutes, the flames are out and the crew backs out of the aircraft, all the while spraying the airframe down to cool the metal and ensure the flames are out.
It was a training event repeated three times during the afternoon training session.
According to Mr. Foster, the biggest danger in this kind of training scenario is claustrophobia, a firefighter falling or any skin being exposed during the training.
"It's a controlled fire, but still dangerous," Mr. Foster said. "This kind of training helps with water applications and gets you used to the heat and surroundings. This is completely different than a house fire; most people don't realize the difference."
For Colonel Benson, it was an invigorating, controlled chaos ballet that illustrated the teamwork required of firefighters.
"It was a huge team effort ... you can feel the team and the voices behind you while you are in the fire," he said. "The end result is the fire gets extinguished and the crew gets to safety. It was huge and it makes you feel proud about what these guys do."