MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa, Japan --
The flames licked the air in front of his face, but he did not back down. From the black maw they shot at him as he did his best to beat them back, yet there seemed no end to the orange daggers. The giant before him engulfed in flames took on the visage of an iron dragon, but that didn’t stop him- because he was a dragon too.
Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, honed their aircraft firefighting skills using the Mobile Aircraft Firefighting Training Device at the base fire station here, June 14.
VMM-265, known as the “Dragons,” is conducting final preparations for their scheduled deployment with the 31st MEU aboard the ships of Amphibious Squadron 11. Before that happens, however, all Marines working around the aircraft on ship, regardless of rank and occupational specialty, need to know how to combat an aircraft fire.
“You would think only firefighting Marines would be responsible for fire control, but the reality is we need everyone who works closely with aircraft to be emergency responders,” said Staff Sgt. Martin J. Arreola, section leader with Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting, MCAS Futenma, and native of El Centro, Calif. “If an incident occurs, you can’t afford to wait for trained firefighters; those working next to the aircraft can don gear and hoses on the spot.”
The firefighter training starts with two days of classroom instruction on safeties and proven techniques. After the proverbial “death by Powerpoint,” the excitement begins when the Marines gear up to take on the MAFTD.
The device is a steel hull simulating any operational aircraft the Marines might find themselves working around, from an AV-8B Harrier jet to a C-130 Hercules plane. The device is fueled by propane from a nearby vehicle, a mobile control center that also powers the intensity of the flames.
“You can sit in the classroom all day long and think you’ve got it, but standing in front of a wall of fire puts things in perspective,” said Master Sgt. Padraig J. McGowan, maintenance chief for the maintenance control division, VMM-265, 31st MEU, and native of Derry, Ireland. “When you get to be the guy who controls the hose, you realize it’s up to you to put out this mass of flame. You really need to get this hands-on training to know what to do.”
Teams of six Marines started parallel to the front of the simulator, operating four hoses to extinguish the fires in the cockpit and save the pilots. From there, the teams split in two and flanked the aircraft, sweeping the sides of the hull rather than applying a direct stream to the fire prevent the spreading of one source. Throughout the 10-minute evolution, the Marines constantly rotated control of the hose, preventing the lead Marine from being exposed to the heat for too long.
Once the simulator was fully extinguished, the teams slowly backed away from the aircraft to complete the training, watching for any additional flares.
“The Marines were very proficient in their extinguishing techniques today,” said Chief Petty Officer Jacob A. Hicks, chief aviation boatswain’s mate fuels with the Surface Warfare Officer’s School Command on-island to instruct firefighter training and native of Indianapolis, Ind. “With this course they’ll be able to competently control or extinguish an aircraft fire, every one of them.”
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.