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Central American firefighters sharing operational knowledge with U.S. counterparts

By Maria Pinel Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

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The Joint Task Force-Bravo’s 612th Air Base Squadron will be hosting a multinational firefighting exercise at Soto Cano Air Base, August 19-23, with the participation of 25 firefighters from Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica.

The Central America Sharing Mutual Operational Knowledge and Experiences exercise (CENTAM SMOKE) takes place twice a year and provides an opportunity for all firefighters to work as a team while learning from each other’s capabilities through strenuous partnership-building challenges.

Col. Steven Barry, JTFB commander, welcomed the students on their first day and emphasized the hard work the Air Force firefighters put into the planning, and wished the multinational participants the best during the week to come.  

The 612 Fire Department instructors look forward to this intense fire and rescue training every year to develop cooperation skills, as well as improve partner nation firefighting capabilities and their own to maintain regional response capabilities.

“We expect hard work, determination, a ‘never quit’ attitude and their willingness to be open minded to learn how we do our job; same with my guys at the fire department - their open mindedness to understand how our partners work as well,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Ott, Fire Chief with the 612. “Sometimes they don’t have the best tools and equipment so we want to learn how they do their job. It benefits us in a situation where we don’t have the ability to get tools and equipment and we are in a place where we have to think outside the box. So it’s really just a shared experience on both sides.”

Training includes safety, personal protective equipment, structural and helicopter live fire evolutions, vehicle extrication, aircraft familiarization and wildland fires. During the initial phases of the training, the firefighters also participate in a combat challenge to evaluate and test their physical condition.

Herberth Gaekl, Soto Cano Fire Inspector, has participated in CENTAM SMOKE since its initiation and spoke on his expectations as the safety instructor.

“I hope their mentality towards their safety and as firefighters has a multiplicative effect towards the rest of their staff when they return to their home stations. I’d like to see participants leave with a smile on their faces and that they have learned,” said Gaekl. .

This training exercise is physically demanding and extremely rewarding, challenging firefighters from across Central America since 2007. The event will conclude with a graduation ceremony Friday, August 23.


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