Condemned buildings provide a training stage for Air Force firefighters in South Korea

Tech. Sgt. Peter Beyer ignites old furniture inside a condemned dormitory for training at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Jan. 22, 2021.


By MATTHEW KEELER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 28, 2021

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The civil engineering squadron at this U.S. air base is using buildings tagged for demolition as an opportunity for “live fire” training for firefighters, security forces, explosive ordnance disposal teams and special operations forces.

By setting rotting furniture ablaze, military trainers created scenarios on the first floor of an old dormitory Jan. 22, filling the halls with dense smoke for firefighting teams to navigate before extinguishing the fires. By rotating teams into the building, 31 airmen fulfilled their biannual training requirements.

“This gives our firefighters on the inside an opportunity to see how a fire is going to behave in real life. This is about as real of an opportunity for training for us to get,” said Tech. Sgt. Zachary Steinkamp, the fire department’s training noncommissioned officer in charge. “This prepares us for what we are going to run into in real life.”

The 51st Fighter Wing’s security forces have used the vacant dormitory to practice breaching doorways and clearing rooms, and Special Operations Forces Korea has proposed dropping onto the roof from helicopters during assault training, according to Cpt. John Kulikowski, the installation management flight commander.

“It's really a phenomenal opportunity to give them real life experience and to be able to damage the facilities a little bit like they would normally do, whether that is down range or in a situation in the country here,” he said Jan. 22.

In line with the Air Force’s Infrastructure Investment Strategy unveiled last March, Osan has identified more than 30 buildings that will be either demolished or repurposed to help maintain newer facilities, reduce the maintenance backlog and improve quality of life for airmen and their families.

“The intent is as dollars get smaller and smaller, manpower gets cut, it becomes more challenging to maintain all the facilities and infrastructures across base,” Kulikowski said.

The investment strategy is committed to right-sizing installations, getting rid of excess facilities and increasing the amount of money available to maintain existing ones, he added.

Most of the structures are old dormitories built 30-40 years ago. Osan plans to demolish 18 dorms by the end of September.

Plans call for renovating and reusing some structures, Kulikowski said. Plans are also being considered to use the freed-up space for a new dorms, a dining facility, a field house and additional sports complexes.

Twitter: @MattKeeler1231

Firefighters with the 51st Fighter Wing prepare for "live fire" training at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Jan. 22, 2021.