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Joint team tackles Yigo fire

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shane Dunaway
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
While Airmen, Sailors and local firefighters honed their skills during a training exercise June 17, they got the call-- a real world fire ravaging roughly 50 acres of land and putting more than $30 million in assets in jeopardy near Mt. Santa Rosa, Guam.

The 60-strong contingency worked diligently to extinguish the blaze, exhausting more than 360 man-hours in the process and saving the base water tower, the local Federal Aviation Administration facility and more than 25 homes from incineration.

Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Strickler, HSC 25 executive officer, said his crew was conducting a fire bucket training when they got the call.

"We rolled from doing training into doing actual operations," he said.
HSC 25 had one helicopter fighting the fire from the air, while six other Sailors were assisting on the ground, using a portable pool to bring water to support firefighting efforts.

"We put approximately 6,000 gallons on the fire," he said, adding the fire was about 10 feet from buildings in the area.

"I think we did a great job," he said, adding that having worked with the various local and federal agencies for search and rescue missions helped ensure smooth communication and coordination of efforts.

"The fact that we are training together shows the outstanding relationship between (Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25) rescuers, (Guam firefighters) and the Andersen fire department," said John Thompson, Andersen Air Force Base fire chief. "(All three) organizations are in the business of saving lives and can easily shift gears from an exercise to a life and death situation."

"Without this strong working relationship with (both organizations,) I'm not sure we (would have put) the fire out as quickly as we did," he said.

The pre-planned routine training opportunity served as a mere pre-game warm-up as they geared up to fight the five-hour blaze.

"These young firefighters have trained hundreds of hours getting ready to fight fire," Chief Thompson said of his Airmen. "At some point, that training can become monotonous. For a few of them, this was their first real live non-training fire and they were excited to get to do their part."

While firefighters from each organization battled the blaze from the ground, they received additional support from Airmen from the 36th Civil Engineer Squadron and the 554th RED HORSE Squadron.

The Airmen brought two additional tanker trucks to assist the firefighters while members from HSC-25 provided aerial support to drop nearly 100,000 gallons of water onto the blaze.

"The Air Force unit responded rapidly," said Capt. Joseph Flores, a firefighter for the Guam Fire Department. "Overall, we did an excellent job as a team to extinguish the blaze considering the terrain. Some of our trucks were designed for street-level use, which made it a bit tougher to tackle the fire, but we were able to contain and extinguish it."

Observers also noticed a strong sense of teamwork between the parties during the endeavor.

"When I was coming home, I saw the fire, the helicopter and the people filling up the (buckets)," said Tech. Sgt. Harry Veldman, 734th Air Mobility Squadron flightline expeditor. "They all worked well as a team. It was interesting to see (the operation in progress) and how it was executed. I've never had a helicopter land near my front yard before."