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20th CES firefighters gear up

Gear assigned to 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters sits arranged on a garage floor prior to a donning competition at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 8, 2018.

Gear assigned to 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters sits arranged on a garage floor prior to a donning competition at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 8, 2018. The participating firefighters were each tasked with donning approximately 30 pounds of gear, including a hood, coat, pants, gloves, boots and helmet, in less than one minute to demonstrate their proficiency and readiness to face emergency situations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Trevor Britt, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, secures his coat during a competition with a coworker at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 8, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Trevor Britt, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, secures his coat during a competition with a coworker at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 8, 2018. Shaw’s firefighters wear gear in layers which can be added to based on the threats they face and provide barriers against hazards such as fire, debris and hot water. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Air Force Airmen 1st Class Nicholas Denning, left, and Trevor Britt, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, don their gear during a competition demonstrating their proficiency at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 8, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Airmen 1st Class Nicholas Denning, left, and Trevor Britt, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, don their gear during a competition demonstrating their proficiency at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 8, 2018. After receiving notification of an emergency, the Airmen must be prepared to depart the station within two minutes to provide as quick of a response as possible. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Nicholas Denning, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, puts on his helmet during a competition with a coworker at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 8, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Nicholas Denning, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, puts on his helmet during a competition with a coworker at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 8, 2018. The race tested how quickly the firefighters could don their gear with the time limit being one minute, which allows them to respond quickly in real-world emergencies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Air Force Airmen 1st Class Nicholas Denning, left, and Trevor Britt, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, stand behind their gear at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 8, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Airmen 1st Class Nicholas Denning, left, and Trevor Britt, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, stand behind their gear at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 8, 2018. Shaw firefighters are tasked with wearing approximately 30 pounds of initial gear when responding to emergency situations at the base and in the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- After 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters receive notification of an emergency, they have little time to waste.

From donning gear to departing the fire station in trucks, the Airmen must be prepared for quick and efficient actions that could mean life or death.

The 30 pounds of initial gear, which consists of gloves, boots, a hood, coat, pants, and helmet, must be on in less than one minute.

“As a first responder, you want to be as quick as possible,” said Airman 1st Class Trevor Britt, 20th CES firefighter. “We have a minute to get ready, two minutes to leave the station once the tones drop. Basically, think of your house on fire and how fast you want people to be there for you. Faster is always better.”

The equipment is also worn in layers which can be added based on the multitude of threats the firefighters may face, said Airman 1st Class Nicholas Denning, 20th CES firefighter. These additional layers provide barriers against fire, debris and hot water.

The gear also ensures Airmen can withstand the elements.

One such hazard firefighters may be required to face is high expansion foam.

High expansion foam suffocates fires, which is released by fire suppression systems, such as those installed in aircraft hangars.

To protect themselves and to ensure they can help others, the Airmen may don specialized gear such as a self-contained breathing apparatus, oxygen tanks connected to a mask.

The tanks, which must also be on within one minute, provide oxygen for up to 45 minutes in a hazardous environment and adds another 30 pounds to their equipment.

While navigating hectic scenes and maneuvering around obstacles, the extra 60 pounds of gear presents a unique challenge which can be made more difficult by the possibility of also having to carry another firefighter to safety.

Denning said the Airmen maintain physical readiness to overcome the demands of their work by training every day. Through stretching and weight and agility training, the firefighters condition themselves for success.

This training helps because they have to be able to go back into the field time-and-time again and perform emergency tasks that can sometimes last days, said Denning.

By becoming familiar with the equipment at their disposal and maintaining constant physical readiness, the 20th CES firefighters ensure they are ready to aid the local community in any emergency.