Thirty four firefighters from all across Central America, came together here from April 24th – 28th to participate in Central America Sharing Mutual Operational Knowledge and Experiences exercise, also known as CENTAM SMOKE, and train in firefighting techniques with their U.S. counterparts from Joint Task Force-Bravo’s 612th Air Base Squadron Fire Department. Since 2007, JTF-Bravo has trained more than 700 firefighters from Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, and Belize through CENTAM SMOKE, a four-day training event that takes place twice-a-year at Soto Cano Air Base.
The exercise is physically demanding and is also extremely rewarding for all participants since it provides an opportunity for all firefighters to work as a team and build relationships among partner nations. “We are very happy to be sharing experiences with our U.S. counterparts through CENTAM SMOKE, and also having the opportunity to be sharing with counterparts from different countries in the region,” said José Sarabia, from the Honduran Fire Department.
The team of highly qualified U.S. instructors provides four days of intense fire and rescue training that will develop team building cooperation skills, as well as improve partner nation firefighting capabilities and disaster response coordination. “Trust is the foundation of teamwork. This is very important when you have to combat a fire whether it is an exercise or an emergency,” said Master Sgt. Jerome Williams, assistant chief of training, 612th ABS Fire Emergency Services.
Training includes safety, personal protective equipment, structural and helicopter live fire evolutions, basic medical training, vehicle extrication, and aircraft familiarization; practices and new techniques that all participating countries can take back to their home units. “This is a really gratifying experience for us. We are acquiring new knowledge such as combating aircraft fires; we didn’t have this experience and we are grateful to have had this opportunity,” said Sarabia.
All nations come together to share mutual experiences and learn from each other while acquiring new knowledge, better preparing them to face adversity together, maintaining readiness and preparation for a natural disaster or fire response. “The fire does not care. Building that trust and camaraderie quickly is important for CENTAM SMOKE to be a success. We only have 1 week to maximize the effectiveness of this event for everyone involved,” said Sgt. Williams.
CENTAM SMOKE is the only operational training event currently hosted at Soto Cano, which involves all seven Central American nations and the U.S. for functional testing and team-building exercises.