CBIRF firefighting Marines test their skills in St. Louis

9 Aug 2006 | Sgt. Christopher Reed

Imagine being high up in a burning building; exits are blocked and the heat is intense. You know there is no way out. Then you hear a voice through the smoke say, “It’s going to be OK. I’ll get you down. You just have to trust me.”

Chances are you will never face that scenario. However, for those who do, the split-second decisions of the first responders to the scene may make the difference between life and death, and your trust in their abilities may be the difference in your survival.

Within II Marine Expeditionary Force’s Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, the technical rescue platoon’s firefighters train extensively to become a well-oiled machine, confident in their equipment and skills – all in the name of saving lives and surviving the day.

“All of these Marines come from a crash, fire and rescue background,” said Sgt. Ruben Acosta, of El Paso, Texas, who is team leader for the tech rescue platoon. “Now we train together and do a lot of cross training with other agencies like (New York Fire Department) and Los Angeles Fire Department. We have to be prepared for any situation.”

Though relatively young – the average age on the team is 21 – they have garnered the respect of fellow firefighters.

“Most civilian firefighters, like in New York, have more than six years of experience before they can get on an urban search and rescue team like our crash, fire and rescue,” said Cpl. Matthew Bachman, a Boston native and rescueman with the team. “They see us and I would think they’d be thinking ‘they are young.’”

“But what they see is Marines and our confidence in our systems and our proficiency because of all our training,” he continued.

Acosta stressed the importance of inter-agency training not simply to hone skills, but to keep key players and responders on the same sheet of music.

“We call it cross-pollinating, and there was a bit of awkwardness at first,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Andrew J. Hilliard, Emergency Services Officer, of this training evolution with the St. Louis County Fire Department, “but as they learned what each other can do, they were amazed.”

Hilliard, who has been in the Corps 21 years and with aircraft rescue and firefighting for more than 18, also compared the joint training to a community toolbox. “Every member has skills that they can share because all need the training and certification. You throw those all in the toolbox and everyone takes what they need and gives something back.”

The St. Louis County firefighters were eager for the Aug. 9 training.

“We don’t have as much opportunity to do this type of training. This has helped me gain confidence in the equipment,” said Tony Taylor, firefighter with St. Louis County Fire Department, after his turn on rappel became a bit harrowing when his Prusik knot locked. Acosta and his team had to talk Taylor through correcting the problem as he dangled nearly 100-feet above the pavement. “The Marines’ confidence and proficiency allowed me to work it out.”

Cpl. Lewis Meza, an Air Force brat from Tucson, Ariz., and the team’s rope noncommissioned officer, shrugged it off and said, “He trusted his gear. If you trust your gear, you know you’re safe. When someone is counting on you, that’s everything.”

CBIRF will continue to support St. Louis first responders in a series of training and exercises Aug. 9-12.

Chemical Biological Incident Response Force