Never off duty: Ramstein Airmen extinguish fire

Airman 1st Class Savannah L. Waters 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

86th Civil Engineer Group Airmen douse a fire at bldg. 1135, April 16 on Ramstein Air Base, Germany. According to base officials, the fire was contained and there was one minor injury of a firefighter. The cause of the incident is under investigation. — Photo by Airmen 1st Class D. Blake Browning

Tapping on the wheel of the car, Valentin Cruzado glanced to the left and was alarmed by the sight of black smoke billowing off the top of the Ramstein Air Base Burger King rooftop.

As plans for a peaceful Sunday quickly dissipated, Valentin Cruzado jumped into action.

As soon as the light turned green, Valentin Cruzado changed direction towards a parking lot that was a safe distance from the Burger King and proceeded to make a call to the fire station to advise them of a working fire and the conditions present.

Handing his wife the car keys, Valentin Cruzado ran toward the smoking building that still held employees and customers, most of which were unaware of the imminent danger.

After directing all personnel to evacuate the area and to move to a safer location on the other side of the sidewalk, Valentin Cruzado made contact with the 86th Security Forces Squadron personnel to direct them to close traffic on both sides of the road and entrance of the establishment.

“After confirming that the manager had 100 percent accountability of the employees and customers, I asked them for pertinent information that would help me determine location and cause of the fire,” Valentin Cruzado said.

Though he might not have known it at the time, Valentin Cruzado’s quick decisions had saved 5 to 10 minutes of response time, as responders were already donning their gear by the time the official alarm went off.

Valentin Cruzado was then appointed safety officer and accountability officer in charge of making sure the more than 60 responding firefighters were being cautious and protected during the operation, and kept a tracking system of who was on scene.

During this fire, responders utilized their incident commander tactics and strategies, fire vehicle positioning, and different fire attack modes.

“Firefighters will have experienced an event of this nature maybe once in an Air Force career,” said Lt. Col. George Nichols, 86 CES commander. “Twelve hours of continuous operations is no small feat and the practicality of their training was more than realized Sunday. It was a total team effort, and no controlled environment can ever replace a real-world scenario like what they faced.”

Once the operation began to increase tactically, strategically and in personnel, each of the base agencies that responded performed like clock-work.

Valentin Cruzado credited the hard work and diligence of the 86 CES, German Polizei, 86 SFS, 786 CES Operations Craftsman, Environmental, Red Cross, 86th Logistical Readiness Squadron, 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron and other base agencies. The fire was completely extinguished by 2 a.m.; 12 hours after it was initially reported.

Units were able to execute rehab, triage set-up and operations, and apply training from all other aspects of fire assignments to this fire.

The Burger King fire put many things to the test this Easter Sunday, but after the seemingly effortless execution of its responders, there’s no doubt that they came ready.

“We’re thankful there were no casualties or major injuries, however, to witness first-hand the organized chaos expertly choreographed to a seemingly lifelong mantra of selfless service and courage, everyone surely came ready,” Nichols said. “It was truly inspirational.”

86th Civil Engineer Group Airmen respond to a fire at bldg. 1135, April 16 on Ramstein. According to base officials, the fire was contained and there was one minor injury, of a firefighter. The cause of the incident is under investigation. — Photo by Airmen 1st Class D. Blake Browning