Fire readiness on the Last Frontier

 

Members of Coast Guard Fire and Recue man a hose and wait for commands during a pit fire designed to simulate an aircraft fire near base Kodiak on May 23, 2013 in Kodiak, Alaska. These controlled pit fire exercises give the firefighter an understanding of the intensity and dynamics involved in an actual aircraft fire emergency, and train them in the proper methods to combating such fires. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Members of Coast Guard Fire and Recue man a hose and wait for commands during a pit fire designed to simulate an aircraft fire near base Kodiak on May 23, 2013 in Kodiak, Alaska. These controlled pit fire exercises give the firefighter an understanding of the intensity and dynamics involved in an actual aircraft fire emergency, and train them in the proper methods to combating such fires. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

A thick layer of fog shrouds an empty gravel pit on the Coast Guard base in Kodiak, Alaska. Animals and foliage are hard to find in the wasteland-esq spot, but on May 23, something was stirring in this otherwise still quarry.

The men and women of Coast Guard Fire and Rescue, dressed in shimmering metallic-material protective suits, gather around an inferno, spouting both flames and thick columns of black smoke high into the air.

This firestorm is controlled however, and during this annual, all hands training exercise, members of the department practice their techniques and abilities to combat aircraft fires in the event of an emergency.

“The pit simulates a class ‘B’ aircraft fire,” said Bill St. Clair, assistant fire chief at Coast Guard Fire and Rescue. “It gives us an opportunity to work as a team and to practice hose techniques.”

Class “B” fires are fuel fires like gasoline, jet fuel and fuel oils. The tactics in the way they are fought differ greatly than a class “A” fire, which is paper, cloth, wood, etc., and where one method of firefighting may work well on wood, it may not have the same effect on fuels. This particular horseshoe shaped fire pit was fed by diesel fuel and burned at temperatures of 1,200 to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit.

“If we actually have an emergency situation with and aircraft, our primary goal would be cutting a rescue path with our hose lines and keeping the fire at bay so people can get out of the aircraft,” St. Clair said. “That is what we train for in these structure fires.”

 

Dan Brown, a firefighter with Coast Guard Fire and Rescue relaxes after successfully combating a simulate aircraft fire near Coast Guard Base Kodiak, May 23, 2013. The protective gear worn is vital to the safety whil combating simulated fires and actual emergencies. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Dan Brown, a firefighter with Coast Guard Fire and Rescue relaxes after successfully combating a simulate aircraft fire near Coast Guard Base Kodiak, May 23, 2013. The protective gear worn is vital to the safety whil combating simulated fires and actual emergencies. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Every member of Coast Guard Fire and Rescue is required to participate in the FAA pit fire training exercise at least once a year. This year approximately two-dozen members manned hoses and honed their skills in this hands-on, live-fire exercise.

According to St. Clair these pit-training exercises are vitally important for the crew to experience because they physically witness the dynamics of a live fire and the effects that the weather in Kodiak has on that fire.

“Due to the low hanging fog, our first few fires were really small comparative to the last four fires,” said St. Clair. “Once the

 weather lifted the fires really started cooking. It is good for our personnel to see those fires, learn what techniques work and don’t work, different hose techniques, getting that teamwork and working in tandem with another hose line, where you get to experience thing that you might not get on a dry run practice.”

Teamwork is the most important skill when it comes to fighting aircraft fires according to St. Clair.

Every fire is different. The dynamics change with the weather and location. The men and women of Coast Guard Fire and Rescue have to be prepared to respond to a myriad of emergencies including wild land, aircraft, shipboard and structural fires in a multitude of different climates. But, with this kind of training and devotion to duty, Coast Guard Fire and Rescue team members will be ready to respond to whatever emergencies may come their way.

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