Nebraska, Czech Republic firefighters strengthen partnership

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LINCOLN AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - Fourteen firefighters from the Army of the Czech Republic fire department trained alongside the U.S. counterparts with the 155th Air Refueling Wing fire department Aug. 16-19, 2021, at Lincoln Air Force Base and Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

The State Partnership between Nebraska and Czech Republic provides the opportunity for the exchange of different ideas, training methods and strengthening of international ties.

Throughout the visit, the 155th ARW’s fire department implemented different training scenarios so that both new and seasoned firefighters from both sides could sharpen their skills.

“We did car extrication, aircraft fires, pulling victims from burns inside a building, high angle rescue and rappelling,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Croteau, 155th ARW assistant chief of operations. “Built into the fire training, we had new guys just coming in that we're getting certified.”

Every two years the Czech Republic fire department is slated to train in Nebraska with 2019 being the most recent visit. The 155th ARW’s fire department is looking forward to going to the Czech Republic next year and participating in their training.

Senior Master Sgt. Rene Arriola, 155th ARW base fire chief, talked about why the training was important for the Czech Republic and the Nebraska’s fire departments.

“It’s really important for them to come and get familiarization of our standard operating procedures in the event they encounter US aircraft in their country or on deployment,” Arriola said. “The fire service is a large family and building these relations only benefits us.”

Maj. Jan Mericka, Czech Air Force Command, which is the Fire and Rescue Service of the Czech Air Force, agreed with the importance of the training and how it enhances international relations.

“The State-to-State Cooperation is very important for the Czech Republic,” Mericka said. “This is how we improve international confidence and trust of our common air crews as well as fire rescue services members.”

Training opportunities like this not only further develop the relationship between the 155th ARW and Czech Republic, but also for the state of Nebraska.

“The opportunities bring cooperation between both countries,” Croteau said. “It brings the partnership closer between the Czech Republic and Nebraska. Training with them was great, and they were a good group of guys and gals.”

After the week-long exchange ended and the Czechs packed up for the trip home, Mericka said he looks forward to seeing the Nebraska Air National Guard again sometime soon.

“Major General Daryl Bohac confirmed the importance of this cooperation between the Czech Republic and Nebraska by his personal visit at the beginning of the training,” Mericka said. “We would like to continue in 2023 and hope for a visit in the Czech Republic.”