Central American and U.S. Firefighters Conduct Joint Training in Honduras
By Dialogo May 26, 2016
A major training program was held at the Enrique Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, when the Central America Sharing Mutual Operational Knowledge and Experiences Exercise (CENTAM SMOKE) brought together representatives of fire brigades from seven Central American nations from April 16th-23rd for a joint training session with U.S. Air Force (USAF) Squadron 612 out of Soto Cano Air Base.
CENTAM SMOKE is a biannual program that, in addition to improving civic and humanitarian operations, promotes regional cooperation and improves collective skills among firefighters from Joint Task Force Bravo and the Central American region.
The firefighters participating in CENTAM SMOKE 2016 included four from Belize, and five each from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, for a total of 34 participants.
“This training at the regional level in Central America greatly improves the professionalism and techniques that we use," CENTAM SMOKE's Coordinator, Fire Inspector Herberth Becker, told Diálogo.
"The work of the U.S. and Central American teams is important because it allows a leveling of the shared knowledge regarding first aid, vehicular extraction [one or more techniques used to free a victim trapped in the tangle of metal from a collision or car crash], and aircraft and structural fires.”
CENTAM SMOKE began in 2002 at the national level and in 2009, the program was implemented regionally in Central America. It is now held biannually. Since its inception, it has trained 800 Honduran firefighters and approximately 700 firefighters from other Central American countries.
For the CENTAM SMOKE program, seventeen firefighters from the USAF Squadron 612 at the Soto Cano Air Base conducted preparations that included taking week-long Air Advisor course to welcome firefighters from across Central America, according to Inspector Becker.
Becker explained that Air Advisor is an intensive program taught by three instructors from the USAF Expeditionary Center who provided 35 hours of instruction to the firefighters. The program was designed to improve previous knowledge, ensuring that CENTAM SMOKE, which is held in a multicultural and multinational environment, is a success. Participants attended classes on Mesoamerican Religions, Foreign Disclosure and Intercultural Communications and Negotiations, and Public Relations.
When the course was completed, CENTAM SMOKE began with the arrival of the Central American teams at the Soto Cano Air Base, where they were informed of the facilities' safety regulations and had their personal equipment reviewed.
“If they do not have all of the equipment, it is provided to them," Inspector Becker explained. "It is important that the firefighters have the proper equipment. To perform all training they must have a self-contained breathing apparatus, which is vital to practicing the live fire and rescue drills, focusing on fire expansion and fire extinguishing methods."
The typical workday lasted from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. “In addition to mutual cooperation and coexistence, the Central American teams achieve certifications and gain knowledge that enables them to deal with real situations and rescue as many people as possible,” Inspector Becker stated.
During the week-long CENTAM SMOKE exercise, physical exercises come in the form of obstacle courses and rescue simulations using dummies of different sizes. The academic side includes classes on first aid and responding to medical emergencies.
Inspector Becker explained that program participants perform these drills to implement the acquired knowledge, improve the use of tools, and ensure the proper handling of firefighting hoses, sprinklers, and nozzles. Every firefighter who participates in CENTAM SMOKE receives a Firefighter Specialization Manual, allowing participants to teach the lessons they learned in their respective countries.
On the first day, the firefighters were divided into groups that included one participant from each country, as the multinational teams strengthened brotherhood among Central American firefighters. "The learning experience was very important," said Honduran firefighter Jorge Betanco Rodríguez, who benefited greatly from participating in the CENTAM SMOKE training. "I strengthened my physical conditioning and bolstered my knowledge of the use and handling of tools, particularly the ‘jaws of life’ [an extraction tool used in rescues]. The correct use of this tool makes the difference between life or death when used in a rescue after an accident."
The competition between the combined Central American team and the Squadron 612 Fire Brigade was inspiring, Betanco added. “It was a good competition. We strove to give the best of ourselves, and it fills us with satisfaction that the effort led to success, because the Central American team beat the U.S. one"
Each firefigher makes a difference
Each firefighter who participates in CENTAM SMOKE is one "who can work with standardized levels of quality and a high amount of professionalism. They will serve as an example and may encourage, wherever they are, programs similar to the one they have received. Many of the trained firefighters are worthy representatives of the program in their countries of origin,” Inspector Becker explained.
For example, a team of firefighters from the Soto Cano base transported an injured person by helicopter to a hospital in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. The landing was considered risky because the hospital is in a densely packed urban area. However, the team of firefighters who received them had trained using what they had learned in the CENTAM SMOKE program to do their job without putting anyone at risk, Inspector Becker said.
“A trained firefighter who does the job in accordance with the appropriate security measures is more confident and therefore able to successfully reach the victims of fires or other disasters, creating a positive civic impact," he added. "A firefighter with CENTAM SMOKE training can make the difference."