MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa, Japan --
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa, Japan -- "Bunker drill!"
In response to the alert, four Marines spring into action, donning their flame retardant uniforms. They race to put their helmets on as a Marine cries “twenty seconds!” from within the chaos. One by one, they climb aboard a fire truck each and slap their hands on the dashboard, signaling that they are ready to go.
Readiness is paramount for the Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting Marines with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, MCAS Futenma. Being ready requires constant practice, such as the flight line fire fighting training they conducted here, April 1.
“An aircraft can become fully engulfed in less than a minute, so every second we take to get ready is another second that someone else might lose,” said Lance Cpl. Rodrigo Cruzvera, an ARFF Marine with H&HS. “So, it is important to respond as quickly as possible to ensure that we can get as many people out as possible.”
Gunnery Sgt. Uriah J. Gruber, the ARFF training chief with H&HS, is one of the primary senior leaders who ensures that ARFF H&HS is ready to roll. Throughout the training, he drilled his Marines as about different aircraft parts, firefighting tools, and how to respond to various emergency situations.
Because the threat of fire never goes away, teams of Marines must rotate in 24 and 48-hour shifts to ensure someone is always on call . The teams become close-knit because of how much time they spend together.
“It’s a family,” said Gruber, a native of San Jose, Calif. “When you see (us) off duty, we don’t split to the winds. We do everything together.”
The Marines share Gruber’s perspective.
“I love the camaraderie you feel -- not only as Marines, but as firefighters,” said Cruzvera, a native of Gardnerville, Nev. “You build a whole different level of camaraderie amongst your fellow Marines and firefighters that you just don’t see in many other units and many other shops.”
Continuous training helps build the camaraderie. At 6 a.m., as soon as shifts rotate and new ARFF Marines arrive to work, they inspect their building and fire trucks. The inspection assures the water pumps engage, the trucks water and air pressure level is correct and all rescue tools are in working order. Soon after, the Marines move on to more training exercises, such as the flight line fire drill.
“Training is a big part of our job,” Cruzvera said. “It is important that we train every day to be the best possible firefighters and Marines that we can be because, in the event of an emergency, we are the thin line between life and death…”
According to Cruzvera, some of the dangers they face are easily forgotten. Besides the obvious danger of fire, the Marines face harmful chemicals when rescuing people from aircraft. Okinawa also has a large amount of rainfall, which can cause difficulty with dry gear contributing to steam burns.
Before earning ARFF certification, Marines have to go through medical screenings to ensure they are physically able to perform their duties. Their health, heart, lungs and previous medical history are taken into account. After gaining medical clearance, they take their first step to becoming ARFF Marines by attending a formal ARFF school, where they learn firefighting techniques and basic life-saving skills.
Once they reach the operating forces, they continue training hard to achieve common goals.
“As Marines, the most important thing is to kill the bad guys, but it’s also important to make sure that the good guys get home safely,” said Cruzvera.