Lewis answers Iraqi 999 call

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A PETERBOROUGH firefighter has embarked on a mission to help train new firefighters in a country torn apart by war.

A PETERBOROUGH firefighter has embarked on a mission to help train new firefighters in a country torn apart by war.Twenty-five-year-old Lewis Collins, from Yaxley, is attached to the Royal Air Force.

The Senior Aircraftman, who is based at RAF Honington, is currently in southern Iraq, where his job is to protect RAF planes and personnel and help train new Iraqi firefighters.

RAF firefighters have been working at Basra airfield since 2003, when British military forces started using the site as their main military base in the area.

Primarily, they are there to protect RAF assets and personnel, and to do this they provide 24-hour, seven days-a-week cover for the whole airfield and respond to anything from a bin fire in the passenger terminal to a major aircraft crash.

They also accompany the Immediate Reaction Teams to incidents outside the airfield, as well as responding to mortar rocket attacks on the base – which now only occur a few times a month.

However, the Ministry of Defence say it is one of the main aims of the current British commander in Basra that the airport will be handed back to full Iraqi control in the next few months.

To do this they need their own skilled fire service, so Lewis and his 15 RAF firefighting colleagues train with the Iraqi firefighters every day in practical exercises on the airfield and theory training.

SAC Collins said: "It's a demanding, but good, experience. There's something different every day, and I've certainly learned some new stuff.

"It's a good experience working with the Iraqis and trying to teach them my skills. They know what we're trying to tell them and teach them.

"It's a new experience teaching people and seeing the results of their training when facing real incidents. Knowing they've got the confidence that you've taught them is good."

Still under British military control, the Basra airfield now doubles as Basra International Airport and its development is seen as a key factor in the successful economic future of Iraq.

Civilian flights began operating in and out of Basra in 2004, with flights now averaging 100 a month.

RAF Firefighters go on four-month operational deployments every 12 months to places including the Falkland Islands, Afghanistan and Iraq.