Firefighter Training

At the time, Chanute was the technical school for all firefighting training. Courses were not only provided for basic firefighting. There were also courses in fire investigations, advanced rescue, etc. It was not a bad place to train in the Summer. Training in the Winter was a real Bear. It was some kind of cold and windy.

In those days the environmental laws were not in existence as they are today, and we trained with the real thing, jet fuel (JP-4). I’ve heard that Air Force Firefighters now train using propane gas that is piped into the fire pit. If this is true, it’s too bad. There is nothing like dragging a hand line through a puddle containing several thousand gallons of JP-4 and water. Training in school with JP-4 was fun, but training out in the field could be a real hoot. The amount of fuel in the training fires at school was limited to just enough to allow you to get a feel for situation and learn techniques. Out in the field it was nothing to dump three or four thousand gallons of fuel and get a fire that really rocked and rolled. Another joy to training in the field was dumping aircraft deicing fluid (alcohol) into the pit. This created a fire that was just about impossible to see in the daylight and you had to be really fast on your feet.

In those days we fought crash fires with the old fashioned protein foam which was a concoction of slaughter house leftovers. It was a brown thick mixture with an interesting odor. It was easy to break up your foam blanket over the fuel by walking and dragging your hand lines through it. Flashbacks were common and you really relied on the Driver/Operators of the trucks behind you to watch your back. They would extinguish the fire behind you with a burst of foam from the truck turrets. Many times the Driver/Operators would have to rain a pattern of foam over you to extinguish the fire surrounding you. It was nice to have a Driver/Operator that was experienced enough to roll the foam off your back, without knocking you over. Fighting fire with the old protein foam using a hand line was a trick. You had to sort of roll of roll the foam ahead of you to get a good blanket over the fuel. It was not as forgiving as the new foams that are basically highly refined detergents that flow on their own. The new foams are much more forgiving.

The Attack – The truck in the foreground is an O-11B. It is not dispensing agent as it is being held off as an emergency backup truck. The truck immediately behind it is a P-2. It is attacking the fire with foam from both it’s roof and bumper turrets. The truck behind that is an O-6. It is dispensing CO2. CO2 was an acceptable quick knockdown agent, but it was severely affected by wind and dissipated quickly. It was typically used over the cockpit of an aircraft. It’s quick knock down ability and supposed cooling effect on the crew in the cockpit was its role. It always had to be supported with foam.

Protecting The Inside Crew And Mopping Up, Chanute AFB, Ill, June 1970

Protecting the save and Mop Up – This photograph depicts Handlinemen ensuring that the fire knocked down by the initial attack with the crash trucks does not flash back endangering the victims and Firefighters performing rescue inside a cargo type aircraft. They will also continue to extinguish the remains of the fire and stand guard for flash backs. In this training victims were simulated using dummies constructed by winding 1″ manila hemp rope into the figure of a human. After being used several times they were saturated with water and foam and were a real joy to work with while wearing your 45 to 50 lbs. of proximity suit.


Fighting a fire with a helicopter was somewhat different from fighting fire with trucks. The prop wash from the helicopter was used to push the fire back away from the cockpit. This eliminated the heat, fire, etc. as a hazard to the aircrew in the cockpit of the aircraft. Firefighting agent for the two Firefighters was limited. All of the agent was contained in what was called a “Fire Suppression Kit (FSK).”

“Helicopter “Pedro” Speeds Firefighters to Downed Burning Aircraft (Official Department of Defense motion picture film by the U.S. Army under the direction of MACV Office of Information. Photography by SFC Cauchi and SP Lucero. Sound by SP5 Lowe.)

The motto of the 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery is “That Others May Live”. To ensure their ability to be ready whenever the alarm sounds, Detachment 4 of the squadron at Korat Thailand carries out frequent Fire Suppression Training exercises to maintain top level proficiency. The primary tool in their firefighting arsenal is the HH43B “Pedro” helicopter, coupled with a special foam-producing fire suppression kit. “Pedro carries two Firefighters in nomex suits which protect them from temperatures up to 1800 degrees. In addition, a medical technician goes along as part of the team. Once the rescue team is aboard and the engines started, the crew chief moves to the Fire Suppression Kit where he hooks it to the hovering copter”.