RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany --
A firefighter has only 30 minutes for the rescue. It’s raining. The victim is conscious, but stuck hanging in the air next to a wall. Their boots slip with every step on the concrete. To perform the rescue, the firefighter will have to scale down the wall to lower himself and the victim to safety. And they only have 30 minutes.
This suspended victim rescue exercise was a part of United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa Fire Academy’s Rescue Technician I Course, but could easily become a real-life scenario at any moment.
The Rescue Technician I Course is a 15-day firefighter training course, this time held from Sept. 30 to Oct. 18 at the 435th Construction and Training Squadron compound near Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The course is held twice a year and is open to all branches of military fighters and civilians.
The class certifies firefighters on technical rescue maneuvers such as crawling into an enclosed space, rappelling down from great heights, and passing over knots. The class also teaches students about keeping victims calm in the middle of a rescue.
Keith De Jongh, a student in the course, said the training, specifically hanging off a building, was nerve-wracking at first, but as it progressed he became more confident.
“It’s kind of all in your hands,” De Jongh said. “We set up systems that are there and then the rest is on you trusting your hands, the ropes, what you’ve learned and what they taught you. So once you get past that initial nervousness, it’s not so bad.”
Staff Sergeant Germane White, rescue training instructor at the USAFE - AFAFRICA Fire Academy, has been teaching this course for two years. He said one of the best parts was seeing the student’s progression from timid at the beginning to fearless by the end of the course.
“It’s almost like seeing your little brother or sister graduate,” said White. “It’s a good feeling.”
Senior Airman Erasmo Boggs, a student in the course, said one of his favorite parts of the course was ascending and descending from walls. He said descending made him more nervous than ascending because you have to put more trust in the system.
“You know you’re gonna get caught no matter what,” Boggs said, “but some people would get in their heads, so it would be a lot harder.”
De Jongh said the course is important because of the amount of real-world scenarios that can happen where this type of rescue training will come into play.
”People work on top of buildings every day,” said De Jongh. “People go in confined spaces doing work every day and things happen where this training would be invaluable in retrieving those persons.”
White himself has had to use this training in action before, when a maintainer ended up stuck in the air while de-icing a McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender. White said they had to use a fire truck ladder to rescue the Airman from the plane.
Even at these dizzying heights, White said he’s never been scared. For him, this is all a part of what makes fire protection the best job in the Air Force.