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NEWS | May 15, 2008

Afghan student firefighters hone skills

By Petty Officer 1st Class Douglas Mappin , Combined Security Transition Command

Afghan student firefighters battle a structure fire during training.
Afghan student firefighters battle a structure fire during training.

KABUL, Afghanistan (May 16, 2008) – With lights flashing and sirens screaming, two fire trucks arrived at the scene as flames engulfed the building.

Fire teams sprang from their positions, grabbed their equipment and dashed into the burning structure.  

This scene could have taken place in any typical western city, but instead the setting was in combat zone.   Eleven Afghan National Army Air Corps student firefighters, were put to the test during an unexpected training exercise.   This exercise was the culminating event in a four-month course designed to prepare members of the ANAAC for emergencies of all types. 

“In the next few years we are training 1,500 firefighters,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Marascia, Combined Air Power Transition Force instructor. “These men have been federalized to protect their country.” 

Under the sole mentorship of Marascia, deployed from the Civil Engineer Squadron at Langley Air Force Base, Va., these firefighting students will graduate later this month.  

“Initially, they had some basic knowledge of fighting fires,” Marascia said. “But before we arrived, they did not know how to properly use their oxygen breathing apparatus.”   

As the fire burned, one team rushed the building, fire hoses in tow, axes in hand, while another team handled medical emergencies, treating three simulated burn victims.  During the course, the students were taught firefighting techniques and procedures and how to provide first-aid skills.

According to Marascia, his students have come a long way in the past 10 weeks. 

“We had to un-teach some of their older habits, but our biggest limitation has been the lack of  equipment,” Marascia said. “We can only teach 12 students at a time because that’s all the equipment we have.” 

For Amanullah (some Afghans go by only one name), a 29-year old firefighter student from Parwan province, the initial days of training were the hardest part of the training course. 

“The first live-fire training was difficult,” Amanullah said. “We started a fire in an enclosed area and then went inside and shut the door to feel the effects of the fire. It was so hot inside there; my skin felt like it was burning, but we experienced how well our gear protected us. Our teacher has taught us a lot.”