Thursday, June 3, 2010

US Marines commend bravery of Royal Air Force firefighters

“It was absolute carnage, the flames, the smoke - the smoke was that dense that you could hardly see the American firefighters who were actually in there dealing with it. We got our guys in to breathing apparatus and got our guys to the front.”

RAF fire engine
The words of Corporal James McInally, from Glasgow, who was the first Brit on the scene when US forces called for back-up.

RAF fire crews, based at Camp Bastion, raced to help their US colleagues when a fire at neighbouring Camp Leatherneck threatened to get out of control. The blaze started at dusk in a storage compound that held gas cylinders, adding to the danger the crews faced. Strong winds fanned the flames which could be seen from Camp Bastion, a mile away.

And they earned lavish praise and a commendation from a United States Marine Corps General for what he described as their "bravery, courage, skill and professionalism".

Fighting fire for 16 hours

Aftermath of the fireThroughout the operation, the strong winds continued to cause problems, reducing visibility to such an extent that at one point the men had to withdraw for their own safety. Sergeant Steve Pickston, from Oldham, said:

“We tried to hit the fire from three sides initially, trying to create a fire break. However, when the sandstorm hit we just had to withdraw because the conditions were unbelievable and we just had to evacuate everyone that was in our area for safety really.”

55 RAF and US firefighters battled the blaze through the night for 16 hours, fighting their way through the storage area container by container to ensure that the last of the flames were extinguished. An area the size of 2 football pitches was totally destroyed. No-one was injured and the base continued to operate normally throughout the drama.

"We could have had catastrophic loss of life"

Presenting the commendations Major General Richard Mills, Commander of the US 1st Marine Division said, “This is just a tiny, tiny token of appreciation but it is symbolic perhaps of the bravery, courage, skill and professionalism that each and every one of you exhibited that evening. I think that the highest thing that we can say is that in a situation where we could have had catastrophic loss of life because of the way you fought that fire we lost nobody. I can buy new things but I cannot buy new people.”

After the presentation Corporal James McInally said: “It was amazing that General Mills came down here today; it was something that we weren’t expecting. I think everybody can say that their heart was in their mouth, especially giving out the certificates. At the end of the day we were just doing our job and for someone to come down and appreciate that…actually coming here and saying thanks, it means a lot.”


  1. We hear a lot about the soldiers fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan, but we rarely here about the just as important troops in the supporting roles. Well done everybody, keep up the good work and please come home safely after a job well done.

  2. Well done All - Keep safe - be praying for you.