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DoD Fire Academy: Fired up for training

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Sarah Williams
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas-- Crackling flames dance on scattered trees while shredded scrap metal sprinkled over miles of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

A railroad track uprooted from the spikes that fastened it to the ground. The crash left the scene in utter chaos and devoid of color July 28, 2010.

Only 10 months post technical school, then Airman Jonathan Leabo arrived to silence the crackling flames at the C-17Globemaster III aircraft crash site. This would be the 312th Training Squadron instructor’s first experience using the skills taught to him during his six months of training.

“I didn’t have to think about anything,” recalled Tech. Sgt. Leabo. “It was obvious how well training kicked in. It was immediate, just grab the hose, run it, charge it and go fight the fire.”

The school Leabo went through, more than 10 years ago, was the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy. Current students go through 68 academic days of extensive training; and the school graduates approximately 2,400 joint service students a year.

This training builds the future force of DoD firefighters.

Before students can see their first fire, they must learn the fundamentals of firefighting.

“In the first week, students are taught emergency management response, how to wear their gear and the expectations of being a firefighter,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Broussard, 312th TRS course chief.

Students see their first fire eight days into their academic training when they encounter a trash can fire. As the students progress in the class, so do the size of the fires.

The fire suppression course is where students start to develop the mindset of teamwork and learn the importance of communication.

“Communication is key,” said Leabo. “Fire suppression is the class where the students will start to get that team mentality. That you’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

Students enter scenarios that challenge their natural instinct to save themselves and are encouraged to focus on saving others.

“Their worlds are now revolving around saving someone else’s life,” said Leabo. “This is a career field that strives to help. We put our lives at risk to save others.”

The fire trainers reach up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Students enter as a team to extinguish the flames before the fire gets out of hand.

“Our job is dangerous, and firefighting isn’t for everyone.” said Leabo. “Our job is life or death. We have to take care of the person next to us. This is a mindset that is difficult to get into.”

During training, students are shown videos to reinforce team mentality. The instructors also relate their experiences in the field to the situations the students will be entering in the fire trainers.

"Being in the military, you're probably going to see things, whether it be an aircraft crash, leaking fuel fire, or a vehicle crash," said Leabo, remembering his experiences sa a young Airman. "This is all knowledge that I'm able to bring back and give to the students.

The knowledge students gain during training will have them begin their DoD career with five certifications, some examples are:  Emergency Medical Responder; Hazmat Operations and Awareness; and Aircraft Rescue Firefighting.

These are skills students can use on the first day of their operational careers.

“These students are going to save someone’s life,” said Leabo. “They’re going to make a difference.”