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Arizona, Kazakhstan firefighters collaborate to save lives

Chief Master Sgt. Chuck Lee from the 153rd Airlift Wing shows Col. Vladimir Bekker, deputy director of Kazakhstan’s firefighting service, the inside of a Wyoming Air National Guard C-130 equipped with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, May 6. A Kazakh delegation from the Ministry of Emergency Situations observed the MAFFS training held in Tucson, Ariz., as part of the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

Chief Master Sgt. Chuck Lee from the 153rd Airlift Wing shows Col. Vladimir Bekker, deputy director of Kazakhstan’s firefighting service, the inside of a Wyoming Air National Guard C-130 equipped with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, May 6. A Kazakh delegation from the Ministry of Emergency Situations observed the MAFFS training held in Tucson, Ariz., as part of the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

Col. Vladimir Bekker, deputy director of Kazakhstan’s firefighting service, gets acquainted with firefighting equipment at the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter in Tucson, Ariz., May 4. Bekker and six other emergency management delegates from the Central Asian country spent a week touring Southern Arizona fire departments as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

Col. Vladimir Bekker, deputy director of Kazakhstan’s firefighting service, gets acquainted with firefighting equipment at the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter in Tucson, Ariz., May 4. Bekker and six other emergency management delegates from the Central Asian country spent a week touring Southern Arizona fire departments as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Firefighters from Central Asia and Southern Arizona joined forces here this week to trade ideas about equipment, training and networking to improve life-saving emergency operations.

The 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport hosted seven emergency management officers from the Republic of Kazakhstan May 4-8 for a well-rounded look at Tucson's diverse fire and rescue missions.

Since 1994, the Arizona National Guard has partnered with the former Soviet state via the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program - exchanging information and people for the purpose of fostering mutual interests and long-term relationships.

Kazakhstan has a centralized, military structure for all firefighters under its Ministry of Emergency Situations. Each are assigned rank and wear their nation's military uniform.

"This partnership is very beneficial for us because we learn new things and we get to see things we don't have," said Col. Vladimir Bekker, deputy director of Kazakhstan's firefighting service. "The equipment that we use is different, but the methods and techniques for firefighting are very similar."

"In addition to showing them our wing's fire and rescue operation, we took them to several different stations around town," said Senior Master Sgt. Shane Clark, wing fire chief and exchange organizer. "They got to see how the Guard, active duty Air Force, city and wild land fire operations are conducted in the U.S."

Fire chiefs from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson Fire and the nearby Mount Lemmon Fire Department explained their operations to the group of delegates who, with help from a Russian interpreter, had countless questions.

"They wanted to know how we are organized, and about our equipment and how we use it," said Army Maj. Mark Newman, state coordinator for the Kazakhstan partnership program at Arizona Joint Force Headquarters. "To answer many of those questions we arranged several live demonstrations for them."

A 162nd fire crew performed an F-16 pilot extraction exercise for the visitors to see how firefighters support a military flying mission.

Other exhibitions included a live burn at Davis-Monthan, wild fire operations at Mount Lemmon and a military C-130s exercise at Tucson Airport where Guard and Reserve units showcased their ability to drop 3,000 gallons of retardant on a burning target.

"We were fortunate to be able to schedule the exchange during this particular week," said Sergeant Clark. "The Wyoming Air National Guard's 153rd Airlift Wing in Cheyenne, in coordination with the Coronado National Forest in southeastern Arizona, held the annual Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training here. We felt it was important to show them that mission because it illustrates how civilian and military fire and rescue units work together in the U.S."

"All of this interagency cooperation we've seen here is something we would like to apply in our system more," said Colonel Bekker. "We also like the personnel structure at fire stations and we like that all firefighters here posses the knowledge and expereince to do tasks that are beyond those assigned to them."

Amidst the lively exchange, the most important gain was the professional friendship established between Kazakh and American firefighters, said Major Newman.

"The strength of the state partnership program is that state National Guards can provide their partner countries with a consistency of personnel to support their partnership programs," said Newman. "Kazakhstan will be able to reach back here to us for years to come, and the same firefighters will be here to help foster the international relationship."

To strengthen the relationship, Arizonans are setting boots on the ground in Kazakhstan.

Maj. Andrew Chilcoat, a 162nd Fighter Wing maintenance officer, serves as the Arizona National Guard's representative to the Kazakh government. He left Tucson in April, 2008, for an 18-month tour at the U.S. Embassy in Astana, Kazakhstan's capitol city, as a bilateral affairs officer.

He returned to the 162nd for the week to escort the group of Kazakh officials.

"The Arizona National Guard does about 20 events like this per year - military to military exchanges - for example military police, explosive ordinance disposal, Reserve personnel management, border checkpoint training and so on," said Major Chilcoat. "That makes the Arizona-Kazakhstan partnership one of the most robust in the National Guard."

Chilcoat said his time in Kazakhstan has been very busy and equally rewarding. He works with the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and Border Guard Services handling all Arizona programs; Humvee maintenance, coordinating casualty evacuation exchange, assisting in the establishment of 911 dispatch centers and of course firefighter exchange.

"I've been extremely impressed with the Kazakhs," said the Major. "Kazakhstan is an up-and-coming country with a growing economy. They are in a critical location in Central Asia, and they're our friends and coalition partners. Their troops have gone right from exchange programs to the theatre of operations along side U.S. troops."