Air Force Firefighters Train Iraqi Crews

KIRKUK AIR BASE, Iraq -- Air Force firefighters here conducted training sessions with members of the city of Kirkuk fire department Feb. 27 in an effort to improve fire response and overall safety for Iraqi citizens in the region.

These sessions are scheduled to become weekly events and eventually train a total of more than 125 Iraqi firefighters.

The idea spurred from Kirkuk's top fire chief who recently expressed interest in reviving an exchange program.

"I met with Kirkuk's fire general and asked him if we could do anything to help their firefighting efforts," said Senior Master Sgt. John Fugelo, the 506th Civil Engineer Squadron fire chief. "He asked if we could do anything to further advance their skills with training. Our Airmen would like to foster the attitude that we want to build brotherhood with the Iraqi firefighters, so we got the ball rolling with this program as soon as possible."

The curriculum is comprised of both classroom and hands-on instruction on life-saving skills such as CPR and first aid. New groups of 25 Iraqi firefighters will pass through the fire station each week to receive the training, with the end goal of a more knowledgeable and robust force.

Though the language barrier created challenges, the Iraqi's seemed to pick up the material quickly and were eager to ask questions throughout the day, said Tech. Sgt. Chancey Crugar, the 506th ECES fire station captain and course instructor.

"We taught them the basic ABCS, which include airways, breathing and circulation, stoppage of bleeding and splinting," he said. "The curriculum covers subjects typical of any first responder course. Most of the Iraqi firefighters are very eager to learn and are often getting ahead of us."

Sergeant Crugar said fostering professionally-oriented relationships was vital to communication between the Iraqi and American firefighters.

"Building a rapport with the Iraqi firefighters is very important. It allows for trust that helps us capitalize on teaching the material," he said. "I can tell a real smile from a fake one. Everything I've seen showed we are truly forging bonds with our Iraqi brethren."

These sessions help firefighters make the city of Kirkuk, with a population of more than 750,000, safer from fires and other emergency threats, said an Iraqi firefighter from Kirkuk.

"The training we received today was very beneficial, as it helped remind our firefighters of some of the tips that could save a life and make Kirkuk a safer city," said a fire chief from a nearby Kirkuk neighborhood. "Training like this helps us grow as a unit, and we hope to continue this partnership with the Americans to get more information on fighting fires. We are like brothers and work together as a team; it doesn't matter where we are from."

Signs of unity shined bright throughout the day, as the group of American and Iraqi firefighters shared laughs with the help of interpreters. The group even found an effective way to help overcome the language barrier by indulging in a few friendly games of ping pong and foosball during the occasional breaks.

The program also coincided with the fire flight's efforts to train Iraqi air force firefighters. The Iraqi air force, which stood up their flying training school here last fall, is served by a small group of military firefighters who receive training from the flight a few times each month.

This training role allowed many of the Airmen here to widen their horizons as international ambassadors of firefighting, as they believe their common bond to save lives transcends cultural and ethnic boundaries, said Tech. Sgt. John Dunne, a 506th ECES firefighter and course instructor.

"No matter what country a person is from or what they believe, firefighters are firefighters," he said. "Even though they speak Arabic and we speak English, firefighters all speak the same language. We are all in the business of fighting fires, so there is an automatic brotherhood between us and we take each other in like family."