EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- While most firefighters across the world prepare for the day they come face-to-face with the extreme heat, firefighters at Eielson AFB are also challenged by the extreme cold.
Located less than 200 miles from the Arctic Circle, the base experiences harsh temperatures often as low as minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the dead of winter. During such conditions, training opportunities are limited.
Although normal training operations has the firefighters out in sub-zero temperatures Staff Sgt. Joseph Cappel, a 354th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department crew chief, says the cut off is minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
“These conditions are vicious; it makes training difficult. If the temperatures drop below negative 10 [degrees] it becomes a safety concern for our Airmen and we risk damaging our own hoses and trucks,” he said.
With the help of a Pump Ops Simulator they have found a way to work and train around those issues.
Designed to replicate the functions of a fire engine pump panel, the full-size simulator is complete with realistic electronic sensors, sound effects, alarms and even allows Airmen to train on troubleshooting procedures in a controlled environment.
“[The simulator] is very realistic; we worked with the manufacturer to get the pump tailored to match our equipment here at Eielson,” Cappel said. “You can essentially become a pump ops master with this.”
Like Cappel, Master Sgt. Christopher Lopardi, the 354 CES Assistant Fire Chief, praises the simulator for its accuracy and functionality. He also notes the practical and fiscal benefits.
“Of course the biggest benefit is that it is a safe training platform to use in the winter. On top of that we can be more flexible with our training schedule all while saving the Air Force thousands of dollars in truck repairs caused by regular wear and tear, and water costs” he said.
The simulator was purchased for $75,000 which may seem like a heavy price tag however, at 7 cents per gallon an hour of pump training costs the Eielson Fire Department approximately $5200 dollars in water costs.
Having one of just five simulators distributed in the world, Eielson is the first fire department in the Air Force and the state of Alaska to have the technology. But it may not stay that way for long.
“The simulator isn’t just beneficial for those of us in cold climates. We've received calls from departments from all over the U.S. and Canada wanting to know more about it. They recognize that the [Pump Ops Simulator] is a great supplement to fire pump training, regardless of the weather,” Lopardi said.
For Lopardi, the level of attention garnered is a testament to the fire emergency services community and their dedication to the mission.
“We have this simulator for one reason, because it helps us get better and stay proficient at our jobs,” he said. “That’s what matters most to us, that we’re prepared for any call at any time.”
“This is another testament to the obstacles our Airmen conquer every day with their ingenuity and innovative spirit,” said Col. Chad BonDurant, 354th Mission Support Group commander. “I’m proud of the Eielson firefighters for blazing the trail for our Air Force.”