It’s been a longer road than normal for new Air Force firefighters to start learning their trade, with the COVID-19 lockdown keeping them confined to Base Woodbourne after their recruit course had finished.

However, training began in earnest for the group of seven new Air Force firefighters last month. It includes extinguishing fires on aircraft, rescuing passengers, extracting casualties from car crashes, medical response and fires in buildings. None of it is easy.

“During the realistic fire training building phase the students will need all their mental resilience because it’s a very hot environment, up to 300˚C within the building,” instructor Sergeant (SGT) Robert Brown said. The training was physically demanding with the pressure sustained every day.

“They really have to dig into their reserves and that’s where mental toughness comes into it. They also  need to keep a cool head throughout, because in that environment sometimes flames are rolling over them, but they can’t panic, because panic is not going to help the people in there or help their teammates.”

The trade required good physical fitness and even physical training instructors who did the same training, found the sustained pace exhausting, SGT Brown said. Trainee, Aircraftman (AC) Stefan Kahu, was pleased to be starting his career after spending so much time at Base Woodbourne because of the lockdown, which resulted in being kept from his wife and child for a lot longer than expected.

“We were supposed to go home and we didn’t get that opportunity. I’ve got a wife and a boy at home – and he turned two while I was down there. So that was a bit of a shame.

“Not knowing when we were going home was pretty tough and not knowing what was happening with our training – everything was cancelled and nobody knew what was happening. I wondered whether I’d made the right decision. But it’s definitely worth it in the end.”

He had enjoyed the training, especially the aircraft fuselage work at Ōpunake, in south Taranaki, where they were extinguishing pressurised fuel engine fires.

“We were tasked with entering the aircraft, extinguishing fires on the inside and conducting a primary  search, shutting down the aircraft, then conducting a secondary search and removing any casualties as required.

“It was a pretty good week,” he said.

“We’re pretty lucky in the Air Force that we’ve got the opportunity to get out there and use those facilities.”

AC Sara Farrell, who was on the same recruit course as AC Kahu, said it had felt like her career had a “hurry up  and wait” element with the slow start. But since training had started, it had definitely improved.

“Ōpunake was awesome and has been a high point in my career.”

She was also looking forward to the live fire training at Linton Camp.

“This time the live fire will be with buildings. I’m really excited about that.”

AC Farrell is a powerlifter and she chose the firefighting trade because it fit in well with her sport training.

“I love how physically demanding it is,” she said.

Published in Air Force News, Issue 228(external link)

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