In the United States, firefighters are generally held in high regard, considered heroes and protectors. In Iraq, firefighters do not have the same image as their U.S. counterparts.
Someone had to do something.
Two Soldiers assigned to the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion, U.S. Division – Center, Lt. Col. Gary Esson, the senior fire service advisor and a native of Joplin, Mo., and Spc. Michael Burris, a fire service advisor and Fayetteville, N.C., native, both with the Provincial Reconstruction Team – Baghdad, have spent nearly a year working to make life for Iraqi firefighters a little bit better.
The first step was to improve living standards inside Iraqi fire stations.
“If there was an [American Base] closing, we would contact them for any furniture that they would give up,” said Esson. “Items like desks, beds and chairs, your basic living items.”
The second step was to get the Iraqi firefighters proper recognition throughout the local community. According to Esson, Iraqi firefighters are not held in the same high regard as the police.
An opportunity for the second step came, May 2, in the form of a “Camping Day,” sponsored by the 72nd Joint Area Support Group. Visiting Iraqi Boy and Girl Scouts had the opportunity to participate in events that included fire safety.
“It gets kids excited seeing what emergency services are doing,” said Esson. “Iraqi kids are the future of the country, they are the next generation. They will grow to trust the fire department and hopefully put trust in other government services.”
The fire safety presentation was a joint effort between Soldiers assigned to the 414th CA Bn., firefighters with Kellogg, Brown and Root Inc. and Iraqi firefighters. They worked together to demonstrate various pieces of fire-fighting and safety equipment and also gave helpful tips on what to do in case of a fire.
“It is important that the public be aware of the fire department and look up to them,” said Burris. “This is the first time they took it upon themselves to show the public who they are.”
Burris has worked alongside the Iraqi firemen and said he enjoyed spending time with them and building bonds with his fellow firemen.
“They are firefighters, like the guys back home where I work. They are good people,” said Burris. “They put themselves in harms way every time they go out. If they are willing to get shot working for their people, I will do my best to get them the training and equipment they need.”
Burris and Iraqi firefighter Kareem Kasim showed a bit of teamwork while participating in a three-legged race. The pair came in first place against two other Iraqi firefighter teams. After he stopped laughing, Burris said that he’d had a funny thought.
“I was cracking up: What kind of war story is this? A three-legged race with a 50-year-old Iraqi man,” said the smiling Soldier.