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Idaho National Guard firefighters train for real emergencies

U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the Gowen Field Fire Department, Idaho National Guard, train to extinguish aircraft fires during an exercise at a local fire department training site, June 6, 2020, Boise, Idaho. This training enhances the the unit's readiness to fight live fires during runway emergencies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Joseph R. Morgan)

U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the Gowen Field Fire Department, Idaho National Guard, train to extinguish aircraft fires during an exercise at a local fire department training site, June 6, 2020, Boise, Idaho. This training enhances the the unit's readiness to fight live fires during runway emergencies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Joseph R. Morgan)

GOWEN FIELD, Idaho -- Firefighters from the 124th Civil Engineer Squadron conducted a series of live-burn, vehicle extrication and classroom exercises in Boise June 6-7.

Senior Master Sgt. Josh Zimmerly, Gowen Field Fire Department’s acting military fire chief, said extrication training using the Jaws of Life, spreaders, cutters and rams, as well as live-burn exercises are opportunities to showcase skills crews are expected to use during real-life situations.

“We need to know what to do during a structural emergency, a car wreck, an aircraft emergency and on medical calls,” said Master Sgt. Andrew Sinsel, the department’s assistant chief of training. “We never know when we’re going to get a call, so we train every month to stay proficient at our job and ensure we’re fit to support our community and our Air Force.”

To simulate fighting fire during an aircraft crash, crews met at a burn pit east of Gowen Field. The pit is one of only a handful in the nation that allows crews to train with JP-8 fuel instead of propane, creating a more realistic simulation during training.

“It’s important that we practice with live fire; otherwise you’re just pretending and it’s impossible to calculate factors like wind,” said Chief Dale Brown, the chief of fire prevention and acting state fire chief. “We’re fortunate to have this venue at our disposal. Other bases have to travel for something like this.”

Once the pit is lit, firefighters modulate an aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) truck around the burn area, spraying water from a 1,500-gallon reserve in a sweeping motion to push the fire away from the fuselage.

“We modulate in order to keep the fire in front of us,” Brown said. “When the fuel catches on fire during training, we push it with water to eventually put it out. In a real-world scenario, we’d use a layer of foam to smother it.”

While the pit provides optimal training grounds for live-burns, the exercise also allows firefighters who recently graduated from tech school to begin their driving certifications.

The department’s focus on training is a small factor contributing to their multiyear recognition as the Fire Department of the Year by the Air National Guard Fire Chiefs Association. Although training is key to their success, crews from the Gowen Field Fire Department cultivate diverse relationships that give them an edge on the competition.

“We’ve won those awards primarily because of all the extra work we do through community engagement and our partnerships with the city and the Bureau of Land Management,” Zimmerly said. “Everything these guys do outside and within their normal responsibilities is a great value to the community.”

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