Rooftop rescue tests garrison firefighters’ capabilities

Story and photo by Rick Scavetta
U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz
U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz firefighters treat simluated casualties on a rooftop at Kleber Kaserne in Kaiserslautern.
U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz firefighters treat simluated casualties on a rooftop at Kleber Kaserne in Kaiserslautern.

Balancing on a cold rooftop, Daniel Pommer, a U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz emergency medical technician, bandaged the leg of a construction worker as fellow firefighters doused a nearby blaze.

Just minutes before, simulated explosions at a Kleber Kaserne construction site launched the garrison firefighters into an exercise to test their response to an on-post emergency.

“This shows me what we have to think about when on a roof,” said Pommer, who’s worked for the garrison since 2010. “We learn things from doing this.”

In the scenario, roofers working with propane gas encountered a leak that ignited and caused an explosion. A mock fire and workers with moulage injuries awaited first responders.

“The dispatcher told us there was an explosion and two victims are missing,” said Jörg Will, a crew chief who responded to the staged incident that was held in late November. “We made a loudspeaker announcement that we have an alarm, and we got straight to the trucks.”

Several loud booms sounded as fire trucks rolled onto the scene. Military police officers secured the area as curious onlookers gazed upward at firefighters climbing up a ladder to the roof.

Pommer, who transferred from Mannheim when that Army garrison closed, has been an EMT for two years. On the rooftop, his role was to access and treat wounds, then care for the injured workers until they could be moved off the roof. One man’s simulated injuries were severe.

“The challenge now (is that) he’s bleeding, and he’s getting cold, and it’s slippery on the roof,” Pommer said.

To get the workers off the roof, firefighters called for the garrison’s ladder truck, housed at Sembach Kaserne. In an emergency, they can also call a German civilian fire station to assist, Will said.

Construction workers are building a new convenience store to replace the Kleber shoppette, which burned down three years ago. The new shoppette is due to be completed in late 2015, according to the garrison’s Directorate of Public Works.

The contractor was required to conduct a fire exercise, so they partnered with the garrison’s emergency services directorate, said Robert Coonce, U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz fire chief.

Once a U.S. Air Force mission, firefighting at U.S. military installations in Kaiserslautern’s east end has been an Army responsibility for the past two years. Garrison firefighters have the ability to fight structure fires, plus respond to medical emergencies and hazardous material incidents, Coonce said.

“They come with the training and equipment to deal with any threat,” Coonce said. “This training keeps them proficient in what they do and keeps them familiar with their area of responsibility.”

In August 2011, a passerby reported the Kleber shoppette ablaze. Firefighters responded in less than four minutes, said Lt. Col. George B. Brown III, the garrison’s emergency services director. Flames reaching into the night could be seen from the highway, nearly a mile away. About 50 military and German civilian firefighters worked four hours to put the fire out, Brown said.

“When it was all over, there were no injuries and the adjacent buildings were saved. That was not by accident. It requires properly resourced and trained emergency professionals,” Brown said. “And that’s what this training was about. We’re all about keeping the worst event from ever happening. However, when it does, we will be there to ensure that it doesn’t get any worse.”