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Blazing Through Language Barriers for a Common Goal

18 October 2023

From Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Maria A. Olvera Tristán

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - Members of Camp Lemonnier Fire and Emergency Services Department, trained with Djiboutian and French Fire Departments in a trilateral aviation firefighting exercise on the flight line at the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, Djibouti, Oct. 5.
The exercise prepared the firefighters for effective joint response by assessing Camp Lemonnier's instructions, coordination, and response to aircraft mishaps alongside other nations.

"It is important that we coordinate together," said Abdouraham Farah Ibrahi, Djiboutian Fire Chief. "To use the power of water, and see what it can really do."

The exercise simulated an aviation mishap where firefighters had to stabilize the fire, and then rescue and transport a patient for further care.

Three teams gathered at the French fire station and each team included a command chief with their crew, along with a fire truck. After a brief meeting, teams took turns going to the simulated helicopter crash site.

Command Chiefs passed down instructions to the fire chiefs, who disseminated the information to their teams using radio, voice, visual, and hand signals. Communication and coordination were at the core of this exercise.

"Although there is a language barrier, we had the capacity to communicate with examples, with simple language, and gestures," said Pfeiffer. "It is possible to do something, to communicate with signs."

Each crew took turns putting out the fire, extricating the survivor, and moving them to safety.

"We were able to watch our crews communicate with each other on the first evolution," said CLDJ's Chief Firefighter Stephen Skola. "The French were able to go to my crew chief, they were able to communicate what they want it done, and accomplish the mission."

The trilateral training gave all participants the opportunity to showcase their strengths and work across language barriers to enhance their collective capabilities.

"We connected and worked together," said Major Franck Pfeiffer, French fire chief. "We were all able to intervene, and coordinate without speaking the same language; even though we don't speak the same language, we proved that we can work together."

The crews also got to learn more about each other's capabilities, said Skola.

"It has been a while since we had interaction with the Djiboutian fire department," he said. "For some of my guys, it was the first time they saw the style of equipment the French have, the type of nozzle is different, they had never seen that. It's always a good thing just to learn so we can work together more effectively."

Teams are scheduled to have regular meetings in the following weeks to translate what they've learned into three languages to prepare for the next exercise.

"This was the first exercise of many," said Emergency Management Officer U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Price. "We look forward to more interaction."

Camp Lemonnier serves as an expeditionary base for U.S. military forces providing support to ships, aircraft, and personnel that ensure security throughout Europe, Africa, and Southwest Asia. The base enables maritime and combat operations in the Horn of Africa while fostering positive U.S.-Africa relations.

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