Puerto Rico Air National Guard Airmen support fire response

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Caycee Watson
  • 156th Wing/Public Affairs

Airmen with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard are keeping the communication flowing and monitoring the health and safety of every responder during a multi-agency effort to stabilize the vegetation debris fire that has been burning underground since Nov. 28.

The Puerto Rico Fire Department is leading the operation with the support of several state and federal agencies, including the Puerto Rico Air National Guard.

The 156th Communications Flight’s Joint Incident Site Communications Capability sent a team to Cayey to establish communications to support the command and control operations working to suppress the fire.

“We’re providing (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones, laptops and commercial internet and we’re providing radio transmission equipment,” said Master Sgt. Raul Iglesias, 156th Communications Flight cyberspace plans and resource superintendent. “This is the first time that we’ve been in a joint-effort, real incident like this.”

The JISCC provides a bridge for communications in emergency response situations when normal methods are weakened. The equipment is hauled in a trailer to the designated site where Airmen set up a satellite that links to other satellites, anywhere in the world.

“The biggest thing that the JISCC brings is being able to establish communications between different agencies,” Iglesias said. “Being able to provide the service to them, I would say that is the most important thing that we bring to the table,”

There are three major areas tied to the fire efforts in Cayey. An area along the Rio de Plata where Puerto Rico National Guard Soldiers are extracting approximately 25,000 gallons of water every day to take back to fire site, the actual site of the vegetation debris fire and the Emergency Operations Center where command and control manages all operations.

“They were having problems talking to the drivers between the sites,” said Tech. Sgt. David Quinones, 156th Communications Flight spectrum manager. “There are some areas where there is no cell phone coverage so they were losing comms with their drivers, so if anything happened with their drivers, they wouldn’t have any way to communicate with them. When we brought the radios they are now able to follow through and keep the communications all the way.”

In addition to the JISCC asset, Airmen from the 156th Medical Group’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Package conducted medical evaluations at the beginning and end of every shift and monitored the safety, health and welfare for all inter-agency personnel working at the site of the fire.

“Our most sincere thanks to all the state and municipal agencies and volunteers of the private company for exceptional efforts, for the collaboration and help they have given us for the extinction of this fire,” said Alberto Cruz Albarrán, the Puerto Rico Fire Department commissioner. “Likewise, we highlight the extraordinary work done by these public servants who remain active and in their commitment to guarantee security by safeguarding the life and property of our people.”