MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — Station Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting is made up of a team of professionals trained to stay cool when things get hot.These guys are always on the ready to respond to any emergency, day or night, which may involve a crash landing or a flight line ground emergency of an aircraft. In order to maintain readiness and stay alert, ARFF performs regular training that requires meticulous focus and concentration.
“All of our Marines are trained firefighters,” said GySgt. Roy Clayton, ARFF crash chief. “They have to be able to respond to any type of emergency.”
“Our primary mission is to save lives and protect property,” said Lance Cpl. Andre Weid, ARFF specialist. “We train to save the lives of pilots, passengers and salvage what we can of the aircraft.”
A basic ARFF team is made up of a crew chief, rescue men, and hand linemen.
“The crew chief is usually the one who drives the truck,” said Cpl. Andre Park, ARFF specialist. “He’s got to be the most experienced. The next position down is the rescue men, who are assigned as the ones pulling the casualties out. Then the hand linemen extinguish the fire.”
All ARFF personnel are issued and maintain bunker gear used during an emergency or potential fire ignition. One of the most vital pieces of equipment utilized by ARFF if the fire proximity suit that saves their lives and skin from the high temperatures, which personnel can often become exposed to when extinguishing live fire.
The suit is made up of vacuum-deposited aluminized materials designed to reflect high volumes of heat and radiation produced by large flames.
These shiny, metallic getups provide protection and can endure approximately 2,000 degrees of scorching heat.
The rescue men on the team, designated to rescue casualties from an aircraft, wear special nomex gloves that provide extra dexterity and protection to the hands.
ARFF practices donning their gear as quickly as possible so as to accelerate their response time. Personnel are timed as they drop everything to race outside to the truck where their gear lies ready so they can put it on and jump into the truck to reach their destination.
“We have to be prepared at any time for an emergency,” said Park. “In an emergency, anything can happen.”
Training is a huge part of what ARFF does overall, especially when it comes to familiarizing themselves with the ins and outs of specific aircraft that commonly land on the station runway.
“We conduct simulated drills to retain familiarity with the aircraft stationed here, as well as ones that are not normally seen here,” said Weid. “It’s a hands-on kind of thing where we identify danger areas and rescue points.”
“If the pilot can’t shutdown the aircraft themselves, we also have to know how to do that for them,” said Park.
Fuel spills are also likely occurrences ARFF must be prepared for.
“We all know how to deal with hazardous material at an operational level,” said Park. “There are a couple of us who are hazardous material technicians, so we’re always there standing by in case of fuel spills, making sure they don’t ignite while the squadron cleans it up.”
“There are a lot of things to take into consideration,” said Clayton. “We have to consider elevation to make sure fuel doesn’t roll underneath their vehicle and wind direction so they aren’t breathing in smoke.”
In addition to conducting drills, ARFF personnel attend quarterly and annual classes in order to gain knowledge about the medical aspects of providing medical aid to casualties as well as the scientific aspects of fire.
Every member of the team is expected to obtain the same knowledge and skill set. “We’re all proficient in every aspect of the job because if one man goes down we have to have another man to replace him,” said Park.
Training isn’t the only important aspect of being an ARFF specialist. Trusting your teammates and maintaining effective communication is just as vital to the mission.
“We are definitely like a family,” said Park. “We like messing with each other and picking on each other, but if anybody outside of us messed with one of our guys, we’ll defend him.”
Even though being an ARFF specialist requires the fulfillment of challenging and even dangerous tasks, the rewards consist of skills that can be obtained and applied as a civilian in this field.
“A lot of people don’t even know the Marine Corps has firefighters,” said Clayton. “It is a unique MOS that provides skills to take into the civilian world.”