Airmen fight fires before they even start

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. R. Michael Longoria
  • 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force - Iraq Public Affairs
There are few things as heroic as fighting fires and saving lives except sharing the knowledge to prevent a fire from even starting in the first place. While a majority of Air Force firefighters stand ready to fight the blaze, a select few are trying their best to keep them out of work.

Staff Sgt. Horace Conney, the 407th Expeditionary Operation Support Squadron public education officer and fire inspector, and his team are spending their deployment educating the 15,000 occupants on Ali Air Base, Iraq, about fire safety and fire prevention.

"We train to fight fires but getting everyone home safe at the end of the day is the only thing that matters," Conney said. "Our number one objective is life safety. We don't want anyone getting hurt, and we will do whatever it takes to make that happen."

Safety starts with prevention, so the team inspects facilities on the base looking for fire and electrical hazards.

"There is always a fire hazard," said Tech. Sgt. Zachary Townsend, a 407th EOSS fire inspector. "We just try to mitigate the potential for a fire to start."

The team ensures all facilities on base are up to standards.

"We have a really good inspection team," said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Amacker, the 407th EOSS fire chief. "They go through and make sure things are in compliance and up to code. They identify and fix hazards to make things as safe as possible."

Improving the safety of the environment for other firefighters in case a fire does start is extremely important to the inspection team.

"I feel great because in case there is a fire, I know my guys can go in there and it's as safe as it possibly can be," Conney said. "There won't be any added hazards because someone stored flammable liquids outside of a fire locker."

With such a large area of responsibility and not enough manpower to check every building on base, the team educates the publicĀ and trains fire wardens to check their facilities and living areas. Once trained, fire wardens are delegated fire inspection authority for their assigned areas.

"We try to get 100 percent notification across Ali Air Base on fire prevention," Conney said. "We educate them on various electrical hazards they may find in their facilities or inside their rooms and how to properly use a fire extinguisher."

Electrical hazards are the cause of most fires in Iraq because people use the wrong adapters and power converters.

"A lot of people don't realize they have an electrical problem," Conney said. "They don't know they are doing something wrong until they get educated on how to do it correctly."

The team already has trained more than 50 fire wardens and is seeing positive results.

"A few of our students have come back and told us they found improper electrical use," he said. "They were able to fix them and eliminate a fire hazard."

Another purpose of the team's training is to teach others how to put out a fire if one occurs.

"With putting out fires, people don't feel comfortable," Conney said. "They understand the concept of putting one out with a fire extinguisher, but they are not 100 percent, until they practice doing it."

To help service members and contractors gain the experience, the team lights a controlled fire and lets the trainees putĀ it out.

"People tend to learn better hands on," he said. "We could go over slide after slide but the only way to know they can do it accurately is watching them first-hand."

That experience is paying off as well.

"Someone we trained had a fire start in their facility and because they knew how to use a fire extinguisher they were able to mitigate the damage," Sergeant Conney said. "Their swift actions could have prevented possible injury or death."

Another incident where the training also helped was during a recent containerized housing unit fire.

"A man used six fire extinguishers to keep the fire from spreading until the fire department was able to show up," Townsend said.

But perhaps the team's most successful endeavor was conducting a class with the 103 local nationals who work at one of the base's fuel points.

"This is the largest tactical fuel depot in the world," Townsend said. "That fact alone stresses how important it was to teach them about fire safety and prevention."