Grissom Firefighters forge essential ground, rescue, survival skills

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Johnathan Stefanko
  • 434th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Knowing what to do when surrounded by intense fire, smoke, debris and darkness is a life or death situation for those fighting fires, and thanks to Grissom Airmen, reserve firefighters are taught those life-saving skills.

The firefighters with the 434th Civil Engineer Squadron helped build the Air Force Reserve Command's first-ever Firefighter Rescue and Survival Course to refine the life-saving skills necessary to fight fires safely and effectively.

Master Sgt. Christopher Bauchle, 434th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter and course instructor, helped develop the annual curriculum in 2017 alongside Master Sgts. Travis Bender and Nicholas Ward, as well as Chief Master Sgt. Aaron Dehner. Together, they have seen the course grow as they prepare for their fourth class, set to take place this spring, at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia.

"While rapid intervention training for saving a downed firefighter is part of each fire department's annual training plan, our career field did not previously adhere to a high and firm standard for conducting such critical training," Bauchle said.

"Our course is different because we took best practices from across the country, combined knowledge and experience into one curriculum, and offer the opportunity for any Air Force firefighter who aspires to challenge themselves to come and improve their skill set."

The class is also kept intentionally small, capped to 12 students each year, to provide the attendees with the best learning experience possible.

"The class starts with a little bit of in-class instruction, but apart from that, students are in full self-contained breathing apparatuses, or SCBA, doing hands-on training," Bauchle said. "This course can feel like the next-level stuff, and we'll try to push them to their limits, but we hope the students use the techniques they learn here to save their, or someone else's, life someday."

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there were almost 900 on-duty firefighter fatalities from 2010 to 2019. Stress and overexertion made up more than half of all fatal injuries; 452 cases resulted in a heart attack, and another 220 deaths caused by trauma.

A recent loss in the Air Force includes Senior Airman Logan Young, a full-time firefighter with the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing, who died Dec. 27 while responding to a mutual-aid fire off base. The West Virginia State Fire Marshal's Office determined the fire was caused by arson.

Bauchle stated that a big motivator for creating this course was to help prevent line-of-duty deaths, and he hopes that what they teach will better prepare firefighters before they are called upon.

"We wanted to make the course as physically and mentally exhausting as possible, make it into something someone might experience out in the field," Bauchle said. "I've run it, same as the other instructors, and it's no joke. But what keeps me going is thinking about the people I am responsible for keeping safe.

"On the civilian side, I am the guy with the nozzle busting the door in,” he said. “But in the Air Force, young firefighters are looking to me for leadership and guidance.”

“That is an incredible responsibility to have because they rely on me to make the right call; otherwise, it could affect them or their family if something goes wrong.”

Bauchle said he couldn't afford to be less than the best, and this course is for those feeling the same way; for those willing to reflect on their faults and pursue excellence with everything they have.

Grissom will host the course here May 10-14. Any firefighter interested in the course can reach out Bauchle via email on the Air Force global network.

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

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