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Kadena Firefighters Adopt New Training Facility

By: Julio Barthson

Date Posted: 1999-11-13

Thick black smoke and suffocating fumes from Air Force firefighters on training will no longer be a concern for Kadena area families and the community at large. For the past six months, the 18th Civil Engineering Squadron Fire Protection Flight has been making use of a new revolutionary training facility that greatly reduces environmental risk and promotes financial savings. It is known as the Mobile Aircraft Fire Trainer (MAFT), and it seems to be an object of great pride for the Kadena Fire and Emergency Services.

“It’s mobile, it’s cost-effective and economical; most of all, it’s environment-friendly,” said MSgt. Anthony Rabonza, Kadena’s Fire Chief for the past two and a half years. “You can’t get anything better right now.”

The MAFT equipment was described as “state of the art” in a document distributed to press organs invited for a fire fighting demonstration two weeks ago on the Kadena Air Base flightline. A group of Japanese civilian observers and several pressmen watched on as Tech Sgt. Don Kundrick and Robert Sharpton commanded an actual firefighter rescue operation, using their new and unique MAFT technology and four firefighters. Don Kundrick recently underwent special training in San Jose, CA on how to operate the Mobile Aircraft Fire Trainer. Since his return, he has participated in training all the 126 Kadena firefighters in the use of that same equipment. “There’s only one of these in the whole Air Force,” Tech Sgt. Kundrick told Japan Update. “With this equipment, we’re having more training with different firefighters every time, and the frequency of our very safe training method just goes to enhance our readiness.”

Sgt. Robert Thornton was on the ground to demonstrate how the fully transportable, self-contained unit works. It can be set up and operated in less that 2 hours on any hard surface by a crew of only 3 people. It has a 250-gallon propane tank on board that provides the fuel to create a real hot fire for training. Temperature sensors, propane sensors, emergency stop buttons, automatic ventilation system and “dead-man” switches are all available on the control console and fire ground. These devices assure that the system is operated safely during training exercises.

The most important qualities of this new trainer, which replaced the old JP-8 Live Fire Training, are those linked with environmental and economic concerns. The use of propane to create the fire in a makeshift aircraft ensures that hot flames burn without the columns of black smoke hitherto experienced with the JP-8 fuels. With the MAFT, there’s no smoke, and no fuel is left behind on the scene. With MAFT, fires can be fully controlled and shut down in seconds, as opposed to JP-8 fires, which must be extinguished with foam or let to burn out completely over an unpredictable period of time.

According to Chief Msgt. Rabonza, there used to be lots of complaints in the past from the community about environmental hazards caused by the thick smoke that jet fuel produces during JP-8 training sessions. Now, there is a marked improvement in environmental impact and practically nothing to complain about.

Besides the environmental advantages of the propane-based MAFT facility, Kadena’s firefighters have registered higher safety conditions and training effectiveness, while training costs have diminished immensely. It usually took at least $100 to produce a fire, that is, practically $800 per fire to train 6-8 firefighters. Now, a MAFT fire costs only $3.00. According to Kadena Fire and Emergency Services figures, 2193 firefighters were trained – with an average cost of $2.70 per fighter – during MAFT testing with the US Navy.

Kadena’s Fire Fighting Department is therefore poised to continue improving on its training capabilities with realistic fires that, however, burn “clean” and pose little or no danger to the environment. It’s an ultra-modern tool that cost the US taxpayer $459,000.

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