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Bonjour, Cape Canaveral: French firefighters train for shuttle emergencies

French firefighter Sgt. Stephane' Lintz (left) pulls colleague Cedric Gonzalez (in the role of an astronaut) from a mock-up of the space shuttle as Training Manager Tech. Sgt. Bradford Spalding of Detachment 3, 45th Operations Group, looks on. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Kenneth Zepp)

French firefighter Sgt. Stephane' Lintz (left) pulls colleague Cedric Gonzalez (in the role of an astronaut) from a mock-up of the space shuttle as Training Manager Tech. Sgt. Bradford Spalding of Detachment 3, 45th Operations Group, looks on. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Kenneth Zepp)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- Twelve French firefighters from Istres Air Base, France, recently came to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for specialized training on space shuttle egress and emergency procedures.

Two firefighters from Detachment 3, 45th Operations Group's Human Space Flight Support office organized the visit and conducted the training.

"We are responsible for training the first responders from 29 different worldwide locations where the Space Shuttle could land. We are the only people in the world who do this kind of training", said Tech. Sgt. Brad Spalding, training manager for the unit.

The three-day event began with intensive classroom instruction that included a demonstration of the advanced crew escape suit and the hazards firefighters may encounter while handling a Space Shuttle emergency. The training culminated with numerous egress evolutions at the orbiter mock-up located at the Fire Rescue Training Grounds on Kennedy Space Center. These extractions performed in full firefighter gear, trained the firefighters on side and top escape hatch operations.

The top hatch pulls were by far the most physically demanding. The firefighter must pull the astronauts (weighing approximately 250 pounds) from the mid-deck thru the flight deck up to the top of the orbiter, and then lower the astronauts down the side.

Detachment 3's Space Shuttle Fire Protection Training Superintendant, Master Sgt. Freddie McKinney said, "This group of firefighters performed remarkably well. You really sensed a team effort."

Even the presence of the typical hot and humid Florida weather could not deter the success or spirit of the trainees. French firefighter Lt. Anne-Sophie Donnars indicated the highlight of this training was, "the demonstration of the suit the Shuttle crew wears and the hands-on extraction at the orbiter; it was hard work, but a lot fun."

Final highlights of the visit were tours of the Vehicle Assembly Building and Orbiter Processing Facility. With their departure, Detachment 3 readies for training for the next group of first responders in this vital Space Shuttle support mission.