KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Something about heights makes many people a little nervous. For some, the fear of the fall causes the butterflies to flutter; for others, the thought of the sudden stop at the end creates a fair amount of anxiety. For firefighters, though, how far away the ground is doesn’t matter so long as they can help the person that needs them.
The 18th Civil Engineer Squadron at Kadena Air Base worked with military and civilian members from across Okinawa, to include Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Naval Base White Beach, Camp Kinser and Torii Station, for rappelling training Sept. 14, 2018.
“We’re teaching technical rope rescue for firefighters,” said Staff Sgt. William Campbell, 18th CES fire emergency services contingency instructor. “Trainees rappel down the system, learn to pass an obstruction in their rope and re-ascend back to the top of the building. The principals they learn today will help them when it comes to rescuing people trapped on a rope climb or down in a ravine.”
When it came to actually going over the edge, a few obstacles became apparent.
“The main challenges, for this group, would be the language barrier and the fear of heights,” said Campbell. “We have a lot of local nationals participating in addition to military members, so the fear of going down 50 or 60 feet on a rope combined with communication issues add to the ‘scare factor.’”
Each student, loaded down with gloves, helmets and harnesses, climbed three flights of stairs, tied off to anchoring points and prepared to step over the edge.
“The goal of the training for today is to get us comfortable with going over the ledge, rappelling and ascending up the rope,” said Senior Airman Jonathan Hayden, 18th CES firefighter. “It’s also important to have faith and trust not only in our equipment and what we can do, but trusting our brothers and sisters working beside us.”
Hayden had no problem admitting Campbell was right about one of the challenges he noticed while training.
“For me, the problem was definitely the heights,” said Hayden. “I’ve never really been super comfortable with heights, but the instructors are great and my teammates are good about encouraging each other. Everyone out here today is very positive, so we’re able to lean on and trust each other.”
Training is an ever ongoing process when it comes to skills used to save lives.
“We’re going to keep training,” said Campbell. “We still have a few more weeks of these classes, so we plan to add more advanced techniques. I hope they never need the skills they’re learning, but it’s rewarding, for me, to know they’ll be able to save someone’s life if they need to.”