Firefighters Shares Ideas, Build Partnership During Saber Strike

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Public Affairs
Firefighters from two nations responded to a fire alarm in Amari, Estonia, Monday - part of an exercise to build partnerships between the air forces of the U.S. and Estonia.

"It is a very constructive exchange," said Paavon Münter, chief of the fire department at Amari Air Base.

In a light drizzle on Monday afternoon, firefighters from the Amari Air Base, local civillian firefighter and four firefighters from the 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard rolled out to the flightline with lights and sirens blaring, responding to a call of a fire and incapacitated crewmembers aboard a Michigan ANG KC-135 Stratotanker. The alarm was part of a suprise drill in which the American firefighters helped the Estonians to learn new skills about how to respond to a fire on a large aircraft. The Estonian Air Force does not own any large aircraft, such as the KC-135.

"The Estonian guys have a lot of experience and knowledge in fighting a structure fire," said Technical Sgt. Miguel Castillo, the lead Michigan firefighter participating in the larger Saber Strike 2012 exercise. "Our mission is to help give them some training on how to engage on an aircraft fire."

Staff Sgt. Robert Juozapaitis, another Michigan firefighter, said the crews from the two nations have been sharing ideas from each side and allowing each group to determine how best to apply that information to their own setting.

"We're not trying to come in here and say 'here's how we do it and you have to do it this way,'" he said. "The Estonians have their own equipment and their own procedures. This is about exchanging ideas."

Building such partnerships is the goal of Saber Strike 2012, a multi-national exercise based in Estonia and Latvia. This is the second year for the exercise, which is led by the U.S. Army-Europe. The exercise, which includes about 2,000 personnel from eight nations, is including the Air Forces of the various nations for the first time this year.

Münter, the Estonian fire chief, said having such realistic training is a definite benefit for his department.

"We do not otherwise have the opportunity to train with these types of aircraft, but we want to be a ready air field for any aircraft that lands here," he said.

Castillo, who is a firefighter in Toledo, Ohio, in his civilian job, said there is an interesting difference in firefighting philosophy between the Americans and Estonians.

"Their equipment is built around the idea of using high pressure on lower volumes of water. Ours is a lower pressure with more volume," he said. "It is a different way of looking at the same problem."

Juozapaitis said for the most part, language barriers have been minimal as a majority of Estonians speak fairly good English. The few communication challenges though, will pay benefits, he said.

"When you have to think a bit more about what it is you are trying to communicate and the most important messages, I think that will help me training our own younger Airmen back home," he said.

Adding to the exercise for the firefighters are the long hours on duty in the firehouse for the Airmen from both nations. Airmen from both air forces are all living at the firehouse for the duration of the two-week exercise.

"We are living together, working together, eating together," Juozapaitis said. "We've even learned after duty that they have a few different 'house' rules in playing (the board game) Risk. So, I think the fire crews are really getting along well."