Fort Pickett firefighters work to earn aircraft rescue certification

Members of the Fort Pickett Fire & Rescue Department conduct aircraft rescue training Oct. 13, 2017, at the Blackstone Army Airfield near Fort Pickett, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Members of the Fort Pickett Fire & Rescue Department along with firefighters from neighboring localities conducted aircraft rescue training Oct. 13, 2017, at the Blackstone Army Airfield near Fort Pickett, Virginia. Adjunct instructors from the Virginia Department of Fire Programs using fire training simulators administered the Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting Course that meets the job performance requirements of the National Fire Protection Association Standard for Airport Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications.

“The training is going really well, and everyone seems to be getting something out of it,” said Michael Berry, Fort Pickett’s fire chief and veteran of more than 20 years at the department. “This certification is something we need here because of the aircraft that come in and out, and it will definitely help with the mission here at the airfield.”

Berry said that he and six other Fort Pickett firefighters already have the certification, and 13 others from department were on track to complete the course. In addition to the Fort Pickett department personnel, firefighters from Blackstone, Dinwiddie and Charlottesville also participated in the course.

“In this program, folks learn things about aircraft rescue firefighting, including airport familiarization, aircraft familiarization, rescue and firefighting priorities, airport emergency planning and strategy and tactics for aircraft emergencies of any kind,” explained Jim Nilo, adjunct instructor for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs. “With the live fire trainer we have here, in addition to taking a written examination, the folks also have to perform practical scenarios from fuel spill fires to aircraft interior fires to aircraft engine fires, wheel brake fires and aircraft auxiliary power unit fires. They practice these skills individually then on the last day of the class we do scenarios where they act as if they are in a firefighting crew at their base. They tie all that training together and actually practice emergency response.”

Nilo said the entire course takes 48 hours, and participants already have to hold Firefighter I and II, Hazardous Materials I and II and Emergency Vehicle Operations certifications.

“These are experienced firefighters going to the next level,” Nilo said. “Fort Pickett has an awesome crew. They have been motivated all week long, and they are eager to learn. Fort Pickett supports all kinds of military operations, and these firefighters help protect the aircraft operations that happen here at Blackstone Army Airfield.”

Fort Pickett Fire & Rescue is a state-operated fire department consisting of twenty full-time employees and three part-time employees that operate out of a single fire station, explained Danny Clary, assistant fire chief. In addition to the station personnel the department also runs the communications center which consists of four full-time employees and five part-time employees. There are also five National Guard firefighters assigned to the department, who were on duty while the Fort Pickett firefighters conducted the aircraft rescue training. Apparatus staffed by the department consists of two fire engines, two brush trucks, two ambulances, an aircraft crash truck, one forestry dozer with transport truck, a hazardous materials trailer, technical rescue trailer and a pick-up truck.

“The firefighters in the Fort Pickett Fire & Rescue Department are true professionals who provide a vital capability to overall safety of operations at the Fort Picket Maneuver Training Center,” said Col. Preston Scott, garrison commander. “They are unsung heroes who always come to the aid of those in need.”

The department responds to approximately six hundred calls per year, Clary said.

“This total is a mix of response types that include emergency medical services, building fire alarms, structure fires, brush fires, prescribed burns, motor vehicle accidents, aircraft standby’s, after hours building facility issues and a variety of other assistance calls to provide a safe atmosphere for those who are training on the facility,” he said. “In addition to emergency response, the department also participates in activities such as building inspections, daily equipment and station maintenance, department training, educational programs such as fire extinguisher training for occupants of the facility and plans reviews for new buildings or renovations to ensure compliance with current fire and life safety codes.”

Clary explained that station personnel are divided into three shifts that work a twenty-four-hour rotating shift. Each shift has six assigned personnel to include an assistant fire chief, two firefighters/advanced life savers and three firefighter/emergency medical technicians. The three part-time firefighters are used to supplement staffing levels when full-time employees are on leave. A wildland firefighter works Monday through Friday to address brush fires and manage the installation prescribed burn program which aids in reducing wildfires caused by training operations on the facility. The fire chief also works Monday through Friday and handles the administrative functions of both the fire station and communications center.

The communications center consists of one supervisor and three full-time dispatchers who work eight-hour rotating shifts, Clary said. The part-time employees fill in as needed and also cover the eight-hour shifts and during peak hours to have two dispatchers on duty. The communications center answers the 911 emergency phone line, dispatches the proper resources to the scene, tracks movement of emergency equipment, answers the facility switchboard to connect callers to the correct office buildings around the installation and serves as an information center for people who are looking for directions or guidance while on the installation.

Fort Pickett is comprised of approximately 41,000 acres and is operated by the Virginia National Guard. It features a combination of open and wooded terrain maneuver areas and 21 ranges capable of supporting almost any weapons system in the U. S. Army inventory. In addition, the installation has a rail spur and C-17 capable airfield as well as barracks to support more than 5,000 personnel and morale, welfare and recreation facilities including a gym, post exchange and leisure center.


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