BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Two U.S. Soldiers here have spent nearly a year working to boost not only the capabilities of Iraqi firefighters but their standing and reputation in the community as well.
According to Lt. Col. Gary Esson, the senior fire service advisor and a native of Joplin, Mo., and Spc. Michael Burris, a fire service advisor and Fayetteville, N.C., native, both with the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion, Provincial Reconstruction Team – Baghdad, the first step was to improve living standards inside Iraqi fire stations.
"If there was an (American Base) closing, we would contact them for any furniture that they would give up," said Esson. "Items like desks, beds and chairs, your basic living items."
The second step was to get the Iraqi firefighters proper recognition throughout the local community. According to Esson, Iraqi firefighters are not held in the same high regard as the police.
An opportunity for the second step came May 2, in the form of a "Camping Day" sponsored by the 72nd Joint Area Support Group. Visiting Iraqi Boy and Girl Scouts had the opportunity to participate in events that included fire safety.
"It gets kids excited seeing what emergency services are doing," said Esson. "Iraqi kids are the future of the country, they are the next generation. They will grow to trust the fire department and hopefully put trust in other government services."
The fire safety presentation was a joint effort between Soldiers assigned to the 414th CA Bn., firefighters with Kellogg, Brown and Root Inc. and Iraqi firefighters. They worked together to demonstrate various pieces of fire-fighting and safety equipment and also gave helpful tips on what to do in case of a fire.
"It is important that the public be aware of the fire department and look up to them," said Burris. "This is the first time they took it upon themselves to show the public who they are."
Burris has worked alongside the Iraqi firemen and said he enjoyed spending time with them and building bonds with his fellow firemen.
"They are firefighters, like the guys back home where I work. They are good people," said Burris. "They put themselves in harm’s way every time they go out. If they are willing to get shot working for their people, I will do my best to get them the training and equipment they need."