Offutt fire professionals trained, ready

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt Jason L. Haag
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
The professionals who make up the Offutt Fire Department are highly trained in a number of different specialties so they're ready to keep Team Offutt safe. Whether it's responding to an aircraft emergency or educating people on how to prevent household fires.

"When somebody calls 911, they want and expect to get somebody who is trained, professional and ready to help," said Ryan Hoffman, Offutt fire captain

To be ready to deal with whatever situation the incoming call presents, firefighters spend a good portion of their duty day in training. Firefighters have a number of tasks they need to be certified either monthly, quarterly, yearly or bi annually.

"Our training is wide-ranging. We have to be able to respond to everything from a trench rescue to a (hazardous material) spill," Mr Hoffman said.

To keep everybody on schedule, the department has a full-time training monitor, who keeps track of all training requirements and schedules. Included in the training assets available to the training monitor are a burn pit, which is also used by outside agencies, and a dedicated training room within the fire station.

"Although we are not responding to calls every hour of the day, our firefighters stay very busy during their shift with training and other tasks to make sure they're ready when the call does come," said Offutt Fire Chief David Eblin.

There are approximately 20 firefighters on one 24-hour shift. After arriving for shift, a roll call is conducted before all equipment is inspected. This includes trucks and individual equipment, such as air packs. After the inspections are complete, details are accomplished, meetings are held and then training requirements are taken care of. All of these activities come to an abrupt halt if a call comes in.

"Sometimes we get asked why people sometimes see four firefighters at an appointment for just one of them. The answer is that that one person could be part of a four-person crew, so if the alarm sounds, they all need to be there to respond," said Mr. Hoffman.

The central point of operations for the Offutt Fire Department is their 42,000 square-foot facility, located near the Offutt Field House. This state-of-the-art building is strategically located with direct access to the flightline, but also allows quick response to structure fires or vehicle accidents.

The "heart" of the facility is dispatch, where all calls come in. Dispatchers have multiple computer screens, phone lines and radios. From this room, they can open bay doors, relay information to the on-scene chief and identify where gas lines are on base in case a gas source needs to be shut off.

"Everything really starts with the dispatcher," said Mr. Hoffman.

The dispatch office is located on the flightline side of the building and was windows that allow dispatchers to view the area that is Offutt Fire Department's number one priority.

With all of the tasks they are trained on and emergencies they are ready to handle, the primary mission of the fire department is to respond to aircraft emergencies in order to protect those assets and people who fly them.

"Crash rescue is the reason we are here and is a specialty for Air Force firefighters. We have that responsibility - to be able to handle fire or rescue response on any aircraft," Mr. Hoffman said.

With the larger aircraft assigned to the 55th Wing, firefighters here are trained to treat a fire aboard a large aircraft like a structural fire. They need to know the layout of the aircraft's interior, so they can extinguish the fire and ensure the crew and passengers are evacuated safely.

They also need to have familiarization with other Air Force and Department of Defense aircraft so they are ready to respond to any transient aircraft emergency.

One tool Offutt firefighters have that specifically aids in this mission is thermal cameras. They have one mounted on a crash response vehicle and also three hand-held units.

"The thermal camera allows us to see through smoke to see people who might be exiting (an) aircraft," said Mr. Hoffman.

Beyond aircraft emergency response, the fire department handles structural fires on base, medical emergencies, gas leaks, HAZMAT spills, vehicle accidents and trench rescue. They also conduct annual fire inspections for all the government buildings on base and fire prevention classes for contract base housing residents.

The number of structural fires handled by the Offutt Fire Department is low and Mr. Hoffman attributes that to the department's prevention efforts.

"We are always educating and the effectiveness of that education is proven in the low numbers of structural fires we respond to. Cooking fires are the number one household fire and we put all residents through a class to help prevent that, even if they've had the class at a previous base," he said.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 150,200 home structure fires involving cooking equipment per year from 2003 - 2006. During that time, those fires caused an annual average of 500 deaths, 4,660 injuries and $756 million in direct property damage.

Another fire prevention effort is annual fire inspections, which are beneficial in more than just identifying potential fire hazards.

"Along with prevention, we are also able to become more familiar with structures, in case there is a fire in that building."

Even though base housing is contracted through America First Communities, the Offutt Fire Department still responds to structural fires in Rising View base housing through a contract with America First. There is a small fire station in the Capehart housing area that allows for quicker reaction time for that location.

Another specialized emergency response handled by the Offutt department is trench rescue, which involves rescuing people who have been trapped by dirt when a trench or hole caves in on them. Firefighters here have a special trench rescue trailer that includes all of the tools they would need in case that call comes in.

"Trench rescue is specialized training. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you witness a trench collapse, call for help immediately," Mr. Hoffman said. "We've had cases where somebody trying to help has become trapped as well. Call us and we'll be there quickly to assist."

In the event of any emergency on base, the professionals of the Offutt Fire Department are always trained and ready to help Team Offutt.