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Playing with Fire at Gowen Field

A picture that contains a fire fighting burn pit with a small burnt out metal tube and next to the tube is a large fire with billowing black smoke.

Airmen with the Gowen Field Fire Department train to extinguish aircraft fires at a local fire department training site, June 6th, 2020, Boise, Idaho. This training prepares the the unit to fight live fires during runway emergencies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Joseph R. Morgan)

Two male fire fighters in their brown and yellow fire suits sit inside a fire truck that is overlooking a fire with billowing black smoke. Inside the cab of the fire truck is an infrared screen showing the heat from the fire.

SSgt Justin Adams and Airman Mason Scott extinguish a mock aircraft fire as a part of their weekend aircraft fire training exercise. This training prepares the the unit to fight live fires during runway emergencies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Joseph R. Morgan)

A fire hose runs from the left corner of the picture, leading the viewer to a red fire truck where two fire fighters wearing their brown fire suits, with yellow reflective stripes, and helmets turn the water on for the hose.

SSgt Thomas Cabalo with the Gowen Field Fire Department refills the the units number four engine as a part of their weekend aircraft fire training exercise. This training prepares the the unit to fight live fires during runway emergencies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Joseph R. Morgan)

BOISE, Idaho --

Firefighters from the 124th Civil Engineer Squadron here conducted a series of live-burn, vehicle extrication and classroom exercises in Boise, Idaho, June 6-7.

According to Gowen Field Fire Department’s acting military fire chief, Senior Master Sgt. Josh Zimmerly, extrication training using the Jaws of Life, spreaders, cutters, and rams, as well as live-burn exercises are opportunities to showcase skills crews are expected to use during a real-life scenario.

“We need to know what to do during a structural emergency, a car wreck, an aircraft emergency and on medical calls,” said Master Sgt. Andrew Sinsel, the department’s assistant chief of training. “We never know when we’re going to get a call, so we train every month to stay proficient at our job and ensure we’re fit to support our community and our Air Force.”

To simulate fighting fire during an aircraft crash, crews met at a burn pit east of Gowen Field. The pit is one of only a handful in the nation that allows crews to train with JP-8 fuel instead of propane, creating a more realistic simulation during training.

“It’s important that we practice with live fire, otherwise you’re just pretending and it’s impossible to calculate factors like wind,” said Chief Dale Brown, the chief of fire prevention and acting state fire chief. “We’re fortunate to have this venue at our disposal. Other bases have to travel for something like this.”

Once the pit is lit, firefighters modulate an aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) truck around the burn area, spraying water from a 1,500-gallon reserve in a sweeping motion to push the fire away from the fuselage.

“We modulate in order to keep the fire in front of us,” Brown said. “When the fuel catches on fire during training, we push it with water to eventually put it out. In a real-world scenario, we’d use a layer of foam to smother it.”

While the pit provides optimal training grounds for live-burns, the exercise also allows firefighters who recently graduated from tech school to begin their driving certifications.

The department’s focus on training is a small factor contributing to their multi-year recognition as the Fire Department of the Year by the Air National Guard Fire Chiefs Association. Although training is key to their ultimate success, crews from the Gowen Field Fire Department cultivate diverse relationships that give them a leg-up on the competition.

“We’ve won those awards primarily because of all the extra work we do through community engagement and our partnerships with the city and the Bureau of Land Management,” Zimmerly said. “Everything these guys do outside and within their normal responsibilities is a great value to the community.”