MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan --
Red, yellow and orange flames engulf the fallen aircraft. The flames lick the sky eagerly feeding on the oxygen and growing more powerful every second.
“Fuel, fire and oxygen are the three elements the fire is composed of,” said Staff Sgt. Dexter Williford, station Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting assistant section 1 leader. “Fire has a certain behavior that breathes and eats.”
This is what ARFF Marines are trained for. As soon as the alarm sounds at the fire house, the Marines are rushing with urgency. They are always ready and alert.
Different ARFF sections are on call at all times with a twohour duty, sitting at the hot spot throughout the day.
The hot spot is an alert position at the airfield. A crew of four ARFF Marines rotate shifts every two hours.
“The hot spot is there to keep a watchful eye,” said Sgt. Bruce L. Best, a station ARFF specialist. “In case of an emergency the hot spot crew will be the first to respond until back up arrives.”
Within two minutes, the ARFF Marines are on the move, dressed in their heat-reflecting, metallic silver proximity gear. They look like astronauts but their purpose is different.
“Our first objective is to get onto the scene to survey the site,” said Williford.
Arriving on scene, they use the bumper turret mounted on the truck to spray approximately 250 to 1,000 gallons per minute of the aqueous film forming foam, which is used to extinguish the hungry flames and to clear debris.
The foam is separating the flame from oxygen so the fire will cease to exist.
The Marine utilizing bumper turret is creating a rescue path for the pilot and passengers being rescued from the crash.
“You have to imagine the people are so hot they are cooking in there,” said Williford. “Every second counts.”
Three fire trucks are positioned at three points around the plane.
Two teams, each with a back up man, hurry out of the truck and grab a hand-line.
They approach the flaming inferno, stay low to the ground, open up the hand-line and let the foam snow down in a back and forth motion.
The flames seem to scream in agony as they dwindle in size. Every month ARFF Marines conduct live fire training exercises.
“The purpose of the burns is to build confidence in the gear, techniques and each other,” said Cpl. James A. Lovett, a station ARFF specialist. “The Marines have people’s lives in their hands. They hold a lot of responsibility.”
The teams of two appear to be painting with the large hoses as they move in sync with each other.
They have had practice and the Marines know each other’s movements.
“We live, eat, sleep and work together,” said Best.
The fire house is never empty at any time of the day or any day of the year.
“Teamwork is very important especially when working with live fire,” said Lance Cpl. Zachary Barnes, station ARFF specialist. “We need to know what the other person is capable of.”
A blanket of foam covers the area, the fire is extinguished.
This is one among many scenarios ARFF Marines are trained for.
Readiness is ensured with constant training and drills.
The ARFF Marines provide protection. They provide back up for the Provost Marshal’s Office, base fire and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.
They are the station’s security blanket.