Fighting More than Fires

Embassy Kabul Fire Department provides unique service to mission

An Afghan girl scout is given fire hose training from an Embassy Kabul firefighter, April 2019. Photo courtesy of Embassy Kabul
An Afghan girl scout is given fire hose training from an Embassy Kabul firefighter, April 2019. Photo courtesy of Embassy Kabul

By Richard Matton

Diplomacy comes in many forms. While the peace and reconciliation efforts that Embassy Kabul’s diplomats have engaged in throughout the past 18 years in Afghanistan are well documented, one of the largest embassies in the world also offers unique services that are utilized daily and help in assisting the diplomatic community. This includes Embassy Kabul’s very own fire department.

Recently, on an otherwise normal morning at Embassy Kabul, the embassy’s Fire Emergency Services personnel received notification of a fire at the Australian Embassy, located in an area nearby. Without hesitation, the firefighters leapt into action. 

Embassy Kabul and Resolute Support firefighters conduct their first joint-training session, Sept. 2015. Photo by Robert Baldrate
Embassy Kabul and Resolute Support firefighters conduct their first joint-training session, Sept. 2015. Photo by Robert Baldrate

Of course, responding to a fire outside the U.S. Embassy compound in a city like Kabul requires the extra step of coordinating security escorts, therefore the Kabul Embassy Security Forces were notified and soon marshaled their vehicles to provide a security escort for the firefighters. After a quick briefing on the exact location and level of the fire emergency, the responding group rushed to the scene. After weaving through congested streets filled with potential danger, the group arrived at the Australian Embassy. Once there, they were greeted by Australian security personnel who provided a detailed description of the situation at hand. The source of the fire was a smoldering generator in a room inside the Australian Embassy that threatened to grow out of control. The firefighters immediately set up operations to contain the fire, and within minutes, the situation was under control. Minutes later, the incident was concluded with no injuries or fatalities. 

Kabul firefighters demonstrate the self-contained breathing apparatus to Afghan scouts during a visit on Children’s Peace Day, April 2019. Photo by Robert Baldrate
Kabul firefighters demonstrate the self-contained breathing apparatus to Afghan scouts during a visit on Children’s Peace Day, April 2019. Photo by Robert Baldrate

After the initial notification, it took the firefighting team only 35 minutes to completely extinguish the fire and render the site fire safe. 

The Embassy Kabul compound adjoins the headquarters compound of NATO’s military mission, known as Resolute Support (RS) and Kabul’s embassy firefighters are also prepared to lend a hand to NATO military colleagues in the event of a fire emergency. In 2015, a helicopter crashed on the RS compound and the firefighters attempted to respond. The problem at the time, however, was that there was no way for the firefighting vehicles to expeditiously access the RS compound. As a result of this incident, the embassy and NATO leadership approved a memorandum of agreement that led to the construction of an emergency gate, which now allows quick access for embassy firefighters to respond to fire emergencies at NATO’s RS headquarters.

Kabul firefighters get hands-on experience utilizing the Jaws of Life cutting tool during a training exercise, Sept. 2019. Photo by Robert Baldrate
Kabul firefighters get hands-on experience utilizing the Jaws of Life cutting tool during a training exercise, Sept. 2019. Photo by Robert Baldrate

While Embassy Kabul’s fire department provides emergency services for the U.S. Embassy as well as—in extreme situations—to fellow diplomatic and military missions in the neighborhood, their unique form of diplomacy also extends to non-emergency situations. In April, Embassy Kabul hosted 30 Afghan Boy and Girl Scouts for Children’s Peace Day. The scouts are part of a Public Affairs Section grantee program which, since 2008, has been reestablishing the Afghan Scout Movement. The scouts provide youth leadership and community engagement education while instilling a sense of volunteerism in the youth. 

Firefighters and Resolute Support personnel provide rescue of unaccounted personnel from a simulated burning embassy building during a joint-training exercise, Sept. 2019. Photo by Robert Baldrate
Firefighters and Resolute Support personnel provide rescue of unaccounted personnel from a simulated burning embassy building during a joint-training exercise, Sept. 2019. Photo by Robert Baldrate

As part of their day visiting the embassy, the scouts were given a rare opportunity to get a taste of what a day in the life of a firefighter is like. Members of the Embassy Kabul fire department showed the scouts state-of-the-art firefighting equipment and provided demonstrations on how to don real firefighting personal protective gear, which included the self-contained breathing apparatus. The firefighting professionals also showed the scouts how to spray water out of a booster reel hose line and let the scouts try on firefighting equipment. 

Embassy Kabul’s firefighters engage in extensive training in order to ensure they are prepared for Kabul’s unique operating environment. In September, embassy firefighters conducted training on vehicle extrication, which is the process of removing a vehicle from around a person who has been involved in a motor vehicle collision, when conventional means of exit are impossible or inadvisable. Using Embassy vehicles that were slated for demolition, the firefighters were able to practice the six-step basic extrication procedure, including using the Jaws of Life and other emergency equipment, in a realistic environment.

An Embassy Kabul firefighter explains the capabilities of their fire trucks to Afghan scouts, April 2019. Photo courtesy of Embassy Kabul
An Embassy Kabul firefighter explains the capabilities of their fire trucks to Afghan scouts, April 2019. Photo courtesy of Embassy Kabul

The fire department is a proud part of the mission at Embassy Kabul, and their capabilities extend well beyond just emergency services. They provide a unique form of diplomacy in an extremely challenging operating environment. 

Richard Matton was an assistant general services officer at Embassy Kabul.