USAF, IAF fire crews train, play together

IAF firefighters play volleyball with their USAF counterparts.

GWALIOR AIR FORCE STATION, India – When the heat is on, so are the Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, firefighters. They are here as part of the exercise series enhancing the relationship between the U.S. and Indian air forces while improving the readiness and interoperability of both forces.

In an effort to create a closer bond with their counterparts, the Elmendorf fire crews donned their silver fire protection gear this week and performed egress training on an Elmendorf F-15C aircraft with assistance from the IAF fire crew. Egress training occurs when fire crews practice removing a pilot from an aircraft when he or she is unable to exit the aircraft under his or her own power.

Staff Sgt. Craig Spears (top) and Senior Airmen. Jason Rice, 3rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, perform an F-15C egress exercise while Indian air force firefighters and maintenance personnel observe.
(pic: Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown)

A pilot may not be able to escape from the aircraft for various reasons: when flames surround the aircraft or when the pilot is seriously injured or under severe shock, according to Staff Sgt. Craig Spears, rescue team crew chief. Throughout Cope India, the IAF is providing fire support by managing any fuel spill fires or engine fires that may occur. The Elmendorf crew will be in charge of all F-15C egress and fire rescue.

“For this egress practice, we ran two different scenarios,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Cornell, training officer. “The first scenario had the pilot unconscious, while the aircraft had an engine fire with the engine turned off; the second scenario was the same except the engine was turned on.”

Through daily interaction with each other, the IAF and USAF fire crews acknowledge subtle differences in the way each force performs their tasks, but overall both forces get the mission completed successfully in similar ways. “The Indian Air Force fire crew is highly skilled and extremely easy to work with,” said Senior Airman Jason Rice, rescue driver operator. “There are only a few procedures that differ between our forces, but overall, their basic rules of firefighting are the same as ours.”

Sergeant Spears "rescues" Airman First Class Joshua Miller during an F-15C egress exercise.
(pic: Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown)

Three IAF firefighters visited Elmendorf AFB to train with the Elmendorf fire crew in October 2003. During the approximately 10-day visit, IAF firefighters learned USAF fire procedures such as egress and fire truck capabilities. Sergeant R S Chauhan, IAF aircraft rescueman and firefighter said, “We are learning a great deal from them, as they are from us. I was one of the three firefighters who visited Elmendorf in October 2003. "I enjoyed my stay and am glad to see the Elmendorf team here. They’ve brought a wonderful team spirit with them. We are all enjoying the time we are able to spend with each other,” he said.

Unlike the Elmendorf firefighters, the IAF fire crew also has the difficult additional duty of being air traffic controllers, according to Staff Sgt. Spears. “Our firefighter basic training school is four months long, and focuses on fire and aircraft protection only,” said Staff Sgt. Cornell. “Their school is 15 months long, and consists of fire and aircraft protection, as well as air traffic control training.”

Since the IAF firefighters have seen the U.S. Air Force firefighters in action during an egress here, it will be the Indian air force’s turn later in the exercise to show their processes when they perform an egress scenario on one of their own aircraft, the SU-30 Flanker.

Like firefighters everywhere, not only do both crews work hard, they also play hard. Wednesday after a long day of training, both fire crews enjoyed a friendly, yet competitive game of volleyball near the Gwalior AFS fire station. And earlier this week, the IAF fire crew challenged the Elmendorf fire crew to a game of cricket, a popular Indian pastime similar to American baseball. The Elmendorf crew willingly took a swing at it.

“At first we didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” said Senior Airmen Jason Rice. “But they were so patient. They worked with us until we got the hang of it. We all had a great time.” “This entire deployment has been a wonderful learning experience,” said Airman First Class Joshua Miller, rescue team fire rescueman. “The awesome people and great food make this trip one I’ll never forget.”

(Source: Pacific Air Forces News Service/