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NEWS | May 13, 2021

JBSA fire emergency crews flex joint training skills at massive fire incident

By Lemitchel King 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Fire Emergency Services answered the call April 11 to assist with fighting a large, multi-structure fire, as part of a mutual aid agreement between JBSA and Atascosa County. 

When the JBSA crew received the initial call for mutual aid assistance, they mounted up a fire engine and water tanker and headed to the scene more than 20 miles away. 

Upon arrival, the incident commander instructed them to park the fire engine farther away from the scene but wanted the tanker at the site. 

“We got out our dump tank, which is a big 4,000-gallon water supply, and placed it to the side. Other department trucks came by and filled the dump tank up from the nearest hydrant throughout the entire night,” said Anthony Owens, station chief at JBSA-Lackland. 

Owens estimates they shuttled about 40,000 gallons of water in total during the incident.  

In addition to serving as a primary water source, the JBSA team also contributed to fighting the fire. 

“While fighting a fire, we only have a limited amount of time; we actually ran out of air, so we backed out,” said Jacob Mathie, lead firefighter at JBSA-Lackland. “My guys only had a five-minute break, resurfaced, and went right back in. 

“At that point, we were assigned to salvage and overhaul,” he said. “We would take in a handline, we would take in tools and equipment, and start ripping walls down, pulling ceilings down, and finding any fires that may have crept up into the eaves.” 

In all, the blaze destroyed five structures, including three family-occupied homes and two abandoned structures, nine vehicles, and more than three acres of property. It was reported that the fire began with a homeowner burning trash. The homeowner reportedly lost control of the blaze, and it quickly moved to piles of tires stored nearby. 

Michael Guzman, JBSA Fire Emergency Services deputy chief, said this real-world incident was exactly the kind of emergency JBSA Fire Emergency Services personnel train for, and this response utilized many skills the teams practice during multi-agency joint training. 

“All of our mutual aid partners, specifically Bexar County, have a lot of confidence in the reliability that our firefighters bring when they arrive on scene and help to mitigate the incidents,” Guzman said, giving credit to the joint training opportunities which occur throughout the year.  

“We do several different training evolutions regularly with our mutual aid partners,” Mathie said, adding that training occurs on JBSA and at community fire training facilities.  

“We can work on techniques, figure out what they like to do, what we like to do, and see what we can mesh together to make a better attack scheme,” he explained. 

Joint training opportunities often coordinated through mutual aid agreements include technical rescue, structural firefighting, medical, hazmat, aircraft rescue, and more.  

One very important joint training exercise the crews participate in is Rapid Intervention Team, or RIT, training, which is training for rescuing a down firefighter, Mathie said.  

“When a firefighter goes down, we have an RIT team established, and we do training like that to make sure we're all on the same page,” he said. “We all want to make sure we do similar RIT training because when we respond [to an emergency call], we might get assigned to RIT, and when you have an outside department coming, those are the guys that – when things hit the fan – those are the guys you're counting on.” 

The fire in Atascosa County required at least 10 fire departments and more than 50 firefighters, and, due to high winds, took nearly six hours to get under control.  

“These guys do an outstanding job, and they worked until 3 a.m.,” Guzman said. “I received several compliments from other departments about their efforts out there on the fire scene, so I’m very proud of them. They set the standard high, which is good for any other mutual aid agreement responses we go on.” 

There are currently 17 Fire Emergency Services mutual aid agreements between JBSA and other departments in the Greater San Antonio and Bexar County area.