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AFSOUTH Airmen train Salvadoran firefighters

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras (AFNS) -- Firefighters from the 612th Air Base Squadron's Fire Emergency Services facilitated the El Salvador's Autonomous Executive Port Commission airport firefighter live-fire exercise for 12 firefighters, Dec. 3.

The Salvadoran airport firefighters are required to have their qualifications completed annually on their ability to control a live fire. Although the evaluation and qualification was held at Soto Cano Air Base, the training is not normally provided by the members of the base fire department.

"Holding the live fires here at Soto Cano AB, works out well for everyone involved," said Senior Master Sgt. Steven O'Connell, the 612th Air Base Squadron fire chief. "They use the same equipment we do, so there is no teaching or training necessary. The only thing we have to provide is the self-contained breathing apparatus, firefighting equipment, and live fires. The Salvadorans provide their own internal validation of their airport firefighter skills."

The idea to hold the live fires here at Soto Cano AB came last year during the Central America Sharing Mutual Operational Knowledge and Experiences, or CENTAM Smoke exercise, which provides multi-national firefighters from around Central America four days of team-building exercises.

"During the CENTAM Smoke exercise, the Salvadoran firefighters noticed we had a lot of the same equipment that they use for their yearly live fires," O'Connell said. "Previously they were traveling to Brazil, which was costing their country over $140,000 to get everyone qualified. Now they're saving nearly $100,000 in training costs with virtually no cost to us. The only thing we are supplying is our time."

Not only do the live fires help assist El Salvador in achieving their annual firefighting qualification, it also helps strengthen relationships between the U.S. and El Salvador.

"Events like this make a dramatic impact with our relationship with El Salvador," O'Connell said. "This is really about continuing to build a strong relationship with our partner nations, while helping them to achieve their training needs."

The next certification session is scheduled for Dec. 15-18.

"This is the third time I've helped facilitate live fires like this. We did them a lot during my previous deployment," said Senior Airman Christian Mejia, a 612th Air Base Squadron firefighter. "It's always a lot of fun to interact with people from other countries. It's an opportunity to share our different techniques with each other."