Fire muster promotes camaraderie, highlights fire safety awareness

Airmen from Malmstrom Air Force Base and students from the local JROTC program competed for bragging rights at the annual Fire Muster competition on Friday.

The 341st Communications Squadron unseated the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, which had one the previous two years.

The annual event is held during National Fire Prevention Week and is a fun way to build camaraderie among airmen while also allowing others to get a taste of what’s required of firefighters.

The fire muster course includes putting on fire gear, dragging a hose, moving a weight with a hammer, dragging a dummy, rolling a hose and the bucket brigade. The course didn’t change much for the 7th annual compeition and whoever completes the course the quickest wins.

“We want to enrich the brotherhood, camaraderie,” said Rick Naccarato, Malmstrom’s assistant fire chief for prevention. “We want people to understand what we do on a daily basis.”

They might not fight structure fires daily, but firefighters also respond to medical calls and there have been house and grass fires on base, Naccarato said, and when the time comes, they have to be prepared to save lives and property.

Staff Sgt. Justin Bunton has been with Malmstrom fire for three years and was recently promoted to fire inspector.

He said their activities this week, which included a parade on base and visits to elementary schools, are meant to drive home the importance of fire safety.

This year’s motto is “every second count, have two ways out.”

According to a National Fire Protection Association survey, only a third of Americans have both developed and practiced a home fire escape plan. Almost three-quarters of Americans have escape plans, but less than half have practiced it. A third of survey respondents who made an estimate thought they would have at least six minutes before a home fire would become life threatening, but NFPA says the time available is often less.

Bunton said they went over fire escape planning with children at Loy Elementary and Great Falls Fire Rescue visits elementary schools city wide to review fire safety and escape planning.

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Bunton said they focus most of their awareness efforts on children to help them grow up with a mind toward fire safety.

“If we get it in their mind, they go home and bug mom and dad to improve fire safety,” Bunton said.

Bunton said the holiday season often includes an increase in home fires as people are cooking more and sometimes using unsafe cooking habits. Things like frying a turkey are regular causes of fires since people don’t thaw the turkey or have the oil too hot, firefighters said.

“Don’t invite us over for the holidays,” he said, and encouraged people to practice safe cooking habits this year. He also recommended that people change the batteries in their smoke detectors when the time changes on Nov. 5.

According to NFPA, the top cause of home fires is cooking equipment, followed by heating equipment. Bunton said unattended cooking is the leading cause of house fires in the Air Force.

Half of home fire deaths result from fires reported between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., according to NFPA and only one in fire home fires were reported during those hours. A quarter of home fire deaths were caused by fires that started in the bedroom and another quarter resulted from fires in the living room, family room or den. Three out of five home fire dealths happen from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. In 2015, U.S. fire department responded to an estimated 365,000 home structure fires that caused 2,560 deaths; 11,075 civilian injuries; and $7 billion in direct damage, according to NFPA. On average, seven people die in home fires daily, according to NFPA data.

A new team to the fire muster this year was students from JRTOC at Great Falls High.

Trinity Taylor is a sophomore, and said they found out about the challenge the day before but wanted to participate, especially since their an Air Force JROTC program.

Taylor said she had respect for firefighters before, but after running the challenge, her respect had increased.

“Seeing what they have to go through just to do simple drills,” she said. “It was a blast, but so much work.”