AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — From a distance, it looks sort of like a C-130 transport plane that’s seen better days. Or perhaps, when activated, an industrial strength barbecue grill.

Firefighters brought trucks and hoses — not steaks — to test out the new live fire trainer Friday. A successful test brought smiles to all of those attending the demonstration. Not that they generally like to see things burning around the base.

“It’s the kind of training we hope to never have to use,” said Col. David Slade, commander of the 31st Mission Support Group. “But if I’m in a plane landing here and there’s a problem … I want to be sure these guys know what they’re doing.”

Base firefighters are required to receive training on putting out aircraft fires twice a year. Aviano’s been sending its crews to Naval Air Station Sigonella to receive the training in recent years, at a cost of about $160,000 a year.

So Chief Master Sgt. Todd Katz, the base fire chief, said that the $500,000 project will pay for itself in about three years.

“It’ll probably be used at least monthly,” he said. “We have 87 firefighters here and they need to be trained twice each, so in order to do that we’re going to be training here constantly.”

And they might not be the only ones. The trainer is only the third one certified in Europe, joining similar facilities at RAF Mildenhall in England and Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Katz said Aviano has already received inquiries from other bases in Europe interested in training opportunities and it’s likely that some local national departments might spend some time on base as well.

The structure is essentially a series of metal plates and pipes built to resemble an aircraft. Katz said it has wings at different heights and a high tail section designed to present elements of different aircraft that might operate at Aviano. Propane lines, controlled from a nearby tower, fuel the fires that spring up around the structure. Inside, there are sections simulating passenger areas and cargo space.

“We can get all kinds of training here,” he said.

The basic structure itself has sat on a large asphalt area in the northwest corner of the base for years, occasionally drawing curious glances from those driving around the base perimeter. Plans called for it to be operational as early as 1996, but various delays — and a failed certification in 2000 — meant that it was largely unused.

“It’s taken us 12 years to get to today,” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Brown, commander of the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron.

Katz said it won’t take long for firefighters to start using it.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now