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Army Firefighters in Kuwait Compete to Be 'Top Dawg'

By Staff Sgt. Nate Orme, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

PORT SHUAIBA, Kuwait, Oct. 10, 2003 – Army firefighters here rolled out hoses, stormed a training tower and rescued simulated victims during a three-day "Fire Dawg Challenge" competition recently, testing themselves on technical competency and physical fitness.

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Firefighters reset the water hoses on the fire truck for another competing team during the "Fire Dawg Challenge" competition at Port Shuaiba, Kuwait.
Army photo by Spc. Petersi Liu
(Click photo for screen-resolution image); high-resolution image available.)

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The event let soldiers compete while improving their skills, and provided their commander with an objective evaluation of their abilities, organizers said. Each member of the winning team received a certificate of achievement good for promotion points. The top individual received a 41st Engineer Battalion coin and the designation of top "fire dawg" slang for a military firefighter.

The competition featured an Army physical fitness test; a timed weapons assembly of an M-16 rifle, M-249 squad automatic weapon and an M-240B machine gun, with all parts initially intermixed; a written firefighter proficiency exam; and a bunker drill beginning with soldiers lying down in bed and ending with them wearing full personal protective equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus.

Among the other contests were a search and rescue team event, competition in combat lifesaver and radio communication skills, and a wrestling event called "King (or Queen) of the Circle."

Soldiers of the 95th, 520th and 562nd Engineer Detachments (Firefighter) participated. The 95th and 520th are based at Fort Drum, N.Y., and the 562nd at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Scoring for the three four-soldier teams was neck-and-neck going into Day 3. It wasn't until the next-to-last event that a winner began to emerge.

That event, the "forward lay fire attack," consisted of teams in full protective equipment responding to a simulated incident by driving a fire truck 100 yards and knocking down three pylons with a blast of water from the truck's fire hose.

Staff Sgt. Henry Lockett, a 95th fire inspector, was a judge for the event. "We test knowledge and skill in the forward lay. Speed, efficiency, a low error count they're all important," he said.

Sgt. Otis Bennett of the 520th is a crew chief. He explained the need for speed. "All firefighters have to move fast, just like infantry. It's basically to lessen the time of exposure to both the fire and any environmental factors, such as the enemy. We would always have a military police or infantry escort in a situation where the enemy is present."

Sgt. 1st Class William Brassfield, a 562nd fire chief with 24 years in the business, 15 with the military, writes military manuals dealing with individual critical firefighter tasks. He said the competition will help his work.

"I also give feedback to help tailor doctrine to real time events," he said. "From this experience I can take back info about how today's Army tactically operates."

The final event, wrestling, was worth only 15 points, but soldiers went at it with as much gusto as if it were worth 50. The event required both strength and grappling skills.

"Strength is important. We may need to pull out a victim or pull a hose upstairs to get to a fire," said 520th soldier Pfc. Nicholas Cuadra, a 4th-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. "A lot of people will come up to the hose during a fire. Sometimes it's for good because they want to help, and sometimes it's for bad. That's why it's always good to know some martial arts."

First Lt. Mark Cobos, leader of the 95th and a combat engineer by training, said the unit has improved its physical fitness average by 50 points while here.

"We don't sit around and wait for something bad to happen. We conduct realistic, battle-focused training five to six hours a day, starting with PT (physical training) at 5 a.m.," said Cobos.

Four 520th soldiers Cuadra, Bennett, Pfc. Ashley Knieriem and Pfc. Alan Weaver won the team competition. Two 562nd soldiers Sgt. Derrick Smith and Sgt. Robert Gonzalez took first and second place, respectively, in the individual competition. Nevertheless, Smith said it was a team effort.

"Basically, the only reason I won was because I was working with my soldiers, trying to set the example" as a noncommissioned officer, he said. "We were well prepared. We had two months of training before the competition. We just did what (we) knew how."

Most of the firefighters have been in theater since February, so a special prize for the top two individual winners was highly coveted: a week of rest and relaxation in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Though several Army Reserve and National Guard firefighter units are stationed in theater, the units at Shuaiba are the only active duty firefighters here. The active duty Army has only about 300 firefighters, said Staff Sgt. William Rourk of the 95th.

During their time in theater, the units have responded to 42 incidents, including a 15,000-gallon fuel spill, vehicle fires, a truck that rolled off a pier into the water, and a life-saving incident involving a huge gate that fell on a port employee.

The 562nd spent April 1 to June 23 at Tallil Air Base in Iraq. With defense contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root having recently taken over most firefighting duties at the port, the units had time for the competition.

The three units' combined 22 personnel operate from an old Kuwaiti fire station here that they cleaned up and furbished with air conditioning and a satellite television.

While at Shuaiba, the units have benefited from the hospitality of the Kuwaiti Fire Marine Station Chief Fadil Alshatti, who brings them doughnuts and has a cookout with them every Thursday, with lamb or goat roasted on a spit.

"They are like guests in my house. I know they cannot go out, and I know what they like from when I visited America," Fadil said. "I don't wait for them to ask. I try to be an ambassador for my country."

(Army Staff Sgt. Nate Orme is assigned to the 3rd Personnel Command.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageFirefighters wrestle as part of the competition during "Fire Dawg Challenge" at Port Shuaiba, Kuwait. Army photo by Spc. Petersi Liu  
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