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Army National Guard Firefighters Ignite Flames Of Cooperation
by U.S. Army Sgt. Brian Johnson - April 24, 2015

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"Mere Chance" by David G. Bancroft

NOVO SELO TRAINING AREA, Bulgaria — As part of a Soldier's National Guard commitment, for two weeks every year, they take part in an annual training mission that will almost always require them to travel somewhere away from their home station.

Those travel locations could be to training areas inside the state, outside the state or even to a foreign country.

In July 2014, U.S. Army National Guard firefighters from the states of Ohio, Colorado and Massachusetts were the first firefighters to occupy and become the temporary fire protection force during two-week rotations serving at Novo Selo Forward Operating Station. Novo Selo is one of the largest NATO-operated military bases in Bulgaria, located in the eastern part of the country, near the Black Sea.

Firefighters from the Ohio Army National Guard's 5694th Engineer Detachment participate in a training class with firefighters from various European countries' militaries in support of Black Sea Rotational Force 14 (BSRF-14)-Operation Platinum Lion. The Ohio firefighters participated in the event as part of their 2014 annual training earlier this year, becoming the temporary fire protection force during a two-week rotation serving at Novo Selo Forward Operating Station, Bulgaria. (Image created by USA Patriotism! April 23, 2015 from photos by U.S. Army Sgt. Brian Johnson)
Firefighters from the Ohio Army National Guard's 5694th Engineer Detachment participate in a training class with firefighters from various European countries' militaries in support of Black Sea Rotational Force 14 (BSRF-14)-Operation Platinum Lion. The Ohio firefighters participated in the event as part of their 2014 annual training earlier this year, becoming the temporary fire protection force during a two-week rotation serving at Novo Selo Forward Operating Station, Bulgaria. (Image created by USA Patriotism! April 23, 2015 from photos by U.S. Army Sgt. Brian Johnson)

For the firefighters of the Ohio Army National Guard's 5694th Engineer Detachment, based in Mansfield, Ohio, their 2014 annual training was spent at Novo Selo working with firefighters from around the world in support of Black Sea Rotational Force 14 (BSRF-14)-Operation Platinum Lion.

Operation Platinum Lion is a joint operation where U.S. Marines train with military personnel Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Romania, Serbia and the United Kingdom, who were in Bulgaria to take part in a joint a live-fire exercise.

U.S. Army firefighters, including 5694th Engineer Detachment Soldiers, supported operations by providing firefighting support for the entire Novo Selo base and its shooting ranges.

During their time in Bulgaria, the 5694th firefighters were instrumental in helping to finalize a fire department mutual aid agreement between the United States and Bulgaria. A mutual aid agreement is an agreement between two entities (in the U.S., mutual aid between fire departments from different jurisdictions is common), according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thomas Drzik, commander of the 5694th.

This agreement encompassed a 20-kilometer area around the Novo Selo base, and established a commissioned fire station on the installation as well.

“This was necessary because Bulgarian fire departments cover extremely large areas and cannot get to some fires for over an hour,” Drzik said. “The week before we arrived, a home less than five minutes from base burned to the ground; the fire department never showed up. If we had been there and mutual aid had been established, we could've responded.”

Drzik said the agreement works both ways. If the U.S. needed help fighting a woodland fire on the range, Bulgarian Emergency Services would help.

Prior to the Ohio Army National Guard unit's arrival, the U.S. Embassy had unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate the mutual aid agreement with the Bulgarian first responders. Drzik said that when he arrived in Bulgaria, one of the first things that the director of the Black Sea Area Support Team for Romania and Bulgaria asked him to do was to set up a meeting with the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior to help develop the mutual aid agreement.

Over the course of many days, Drzik and the other National Guard firefighters worked to establish the level of trust and understanding needed to allow the mutual aid agreement to be crafted.

“We developed cross-service partnerships on two days of training with Bulgarian Emergency Services,” Drzik said.

The firefighters worked with the regional Bulgarian Emergency Services, toured their facilities, and they toured the Novo Selo facilities. “One day was spent in the city of Sliven, understanding what capabilities that the firefighters there had and how we [the Novo Selo base] would complement each other,” Drzik said.

Another day was spent on Novo Selo, hooking Bulgarian trucks to U.S. trucks, conducting pumping operations from one to another and demonstrating new firefighting techniques to the Bulgarian Emergency Services.

“The largest obstacles faced in developing the agreement were to breach the language gap and for both sides to understand that we were there as equals,” Drzik said. “We are all experienced firefighters from different nations. This was an agreement where egos needed to be put aside and all had to understand their limitations.”

In the end, the mutual aid agreement was established to the benefit of all parties involved.

“Chief Drzik was instrumental in helping write and implement a mutual aid agreement for me with the local authorities,” said Col. Ronald Bahr, director of the Black Sea Area Support Team for Romania and Bulgaria.

During their time at Novo Selo, the Ohio Army National Guard firefighters also established and commissioned a fire station at Novo Selo. The fire station had stood vacant for two years after it was constructed.

“Drzik and his team helped to inventory and put into service the three fire engines that were just delivered to Novo Selo a few days prior to their arrival,” Bahr said, adding that the Ohio firefighters made critical contributions and a very positive impression while at Novo Selo.

“In the end, Chief Drzik also coordinated coverage for all the training activities to ensure the best possible response and outcomes for any emergencies,” Bahr said. “Overall, the team was motivated and great to work with.”

By U.S. Army Sgt. Brian Johnson
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2015

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