Central American Troops Receive Firefighting Training

The Honduran Armed Forces improve regional skills on environmental protection with the help of the United States.
Kay Valle/Diálogo | 20 February 2019

International Relations

Central American officers participating in the firefighting course observe a scale model used during a simulation exercise. (Photo: Honduran Air Force Captain Raúl Ernesto Reyes Rodríguez)

The Honduran Armed Forces led a regional firefighting course in mid-January. The International Fire Management and Environmental Legislation and Protection Course trained 110 service members from the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC, in Spanish).

Central American troops learn to use fireproof shelters under the guidance of U.S. officers at the headquarters of U.S. Southern Command’s JTF-Bravo. (Photo: Honduran Air Force Captain Raúl Ernesto Reyes Rodríguez)

The Honduran Armed Forces’ Ecosystems and Environment Support Command (C-9, in Spanish) coordinated the course carried out at the Army’s headquarters in Tegucigalpa. The two-week course involved 102 Honduran service members and eight members of the Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, and Dominican forces.

“The goal of the course is to improve capabilities and skills to prevent, detect, organize, and control wildfires in safe conditions,” Honduran Air Force Captain Raúl Ernesto Reyes Rodríguez, C-9 liaison officer and head of training, told Diálogo. “It’s designed to help students become fire management instructors.” 

“The course is very important,” said Navy Captain José Domingo Meza, director of Public Relations for the Honduran Armed Forces. “CFAC officers can plan and conduct joint operations on environmental protection with a unified doctrine, facilitating mutual support.”

U.S. support

U.S. Southern Command, through Joint Task Force-Bravo’s (JTF-Bravo) 612th Air Base Squadron Fire Department based in Comayagua, Honduras, brought support to the theoretical and hands-on course. U.S. officers worked as instructors along with C-9 officers and personnel from the Honduran Special Public Prosecutor’s Office for Environmental Protection.

“We included something new in this second course, the participation of Joint Task Force-Bravo,” said Capt. Reyes. “They shared their experiences for two days, demonstrating the training that a U.S. service member receives in firefighting.”

According to Capt. Reyes, JTF-Bravo’s participation helped strengthen participants’ knowledge as they shared expertise and techniques. As a symbol of fraternity between officers of both countries, the C-9 gave U.S. instructors a certificate for their support.

“When [fires] are very powerful and the country doesn’t have the capacity to contain them, JTF-Bravo assists us,” said Capt. Reyes. “This connection allowed Honduran and foreign students, as well as participating government institutions, observe how [U.S. military firefighters] work to extinguish wildfires.”

A Honduran Air Force helicopter equipped with Bambi Bucket unloads water, as part of the Honduran Armed Forces’ international firefighting course. (Photo: Honduran Air Force Captain Raúl Ernesto Reyes Rodríguez)

Testing what was learned

The crux of the course consisted of hands-on training that allowed participants to put to the test what was learned, including how to start fires in a controlled environment, different techniques to extinguish a fire, and safety measures, among other skills. Exercises were also designed to promote joint work to standardize methodologies.

Before mobilizing students on the ground, instructors devised an exercise with a scale model simulating a forest fire, so as to test their response capabilities. “Instructors simulated a 3D scene on a table, representing situations that could happen in a fire. Students had to make decisions in a limited time frame,” said Capt. Reyes. “This helped them learn and coordinate work with state institutions and other fire response organizations. It’s an excellent methodological tool.”

In Comayagua, students and JTF-Bravo instructors met at Soto Cano Air Base, headquarters of the U.S. unit, where they learned to use fireproof shelters—equipment designed to protect people and valuables in case of a fire. Although participating nations don’t have the equipment, the instruction was crucial, said Capt. Reyes. 

Students also traveled to Zambrano, a rural village in Francisco Morazán department, where they made rounds with drip torches and applied other techniques. “Drip torches are used as ignition methods,” said Capt. Reyes. “The use of flare bombs was also taught; both are used to make controlled burns. They are used as preventive measures for large-scale forest fires.”

Participants also practiced chart reading and land navigation and learned to get their bearings in the field. The Honduran Air Force took part in the last practical exercise with a helicopter equipped with Bambi Bucket, a portable device used to collect water and extinguish fires.

“That had a didactic purpose,” said Capt. Reyes. “But it was useful for officers as experience in using air resources for firefighting.”

According to Capt. Reyes, the course was successful, and shows the armed forces’ commitment to protect natural resources, mountains, and rainforests, which are world heritage sites. The third edition of the course is scheduled for early 2020.

“The plan [for the course] is to gradually adapt the doctrine to the changes that happen within the ecosystem,” Capt. Meza concluded. “Likewise, [the goal] is to obtain technological resources that would enable us to provide training according to the new challenges that occur in CFAC member nations.”

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