Day in the life: 20th CES fire department
By Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 12, 2019
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- When a home bursts into flames, breathing becomes more difficult and chances of escape dwindle as the fire roars. With a gray haze overflowing the house, the air begins to turn more toxic and heat intensifies, all hope seems lost.
Bracing the raging beast are guardians dressed in protective gear and portable oxygen tanks, ready to enter the flame and fight to rescue those in danger.
In order to remain ready to respond to any calls, these firefighters live out of fire stations, performing everyday tasks such as working out, making meals and socializing with each other for 48 hours at a time.
Before officially beginning their day, all available personnel gather for a morning meeting to discuss any maintenance and training to be completed that day.
“Morning meetings involve the assistant chief and the station captain going over the tasks for the day,” said Tech. Sgt. Larry Diaz, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron assistant chief of training and readiness. “The plan of action to complete them and any issues that there may be that need addressing. They also give updates on any new crew assignments.”
After the meeting firefighters disperse and inspect all vehicles and machinery in the station, ensuring they are functioning properly, should an incident occur.
“During our morning inspections we have a checklist that we need to review every morning prior to going on any calls,” said Senior Airman William Hough, 20th CES firefighter. “The checklist is comprised of the various tools and mechanisms inside the vehicle.”
Upon completing maintenance, they proceed to training. Training can range from classroom based lectures to hands-on firefighting and CPR training.
“Throughout our career we train on numerous things,” said Senior Airman Myles Arrick, 20th CES driver operator. “We have medical advancement, F-16 egress, rope and hoisting, along with many other trainings.”
Arrick went on to say firefighters are always learning so they don’t forget the training necessary to save lives.
According to a publication by the U.S. Air Force official site, fire protection specialists deal with everything from brush fires to burning rocket fuel and hazardous material fires.
Receiving the chance to practice hands-on firefighting skills is vital to ensuring a flawless clearing of potential aircraft and structure fires. Being able to control the intensity of fires is vital to training both novice and experienced first responders.
“Performing structural and aircraft fire training is vital in enhancing our firefighter’s muscle memory,” said Diaz. “Should they respond to any of these incidents they will need to fall back on their training.”
After training for hours the firefighters begin their downtime at 3 p.m. In this time they take care of any personal tasks that may need to be done. But there is never truly “down” time for a group on-call for 48 hours.
When the sound system announces “standby for …” all personnel on deck prepare to rush to the vehicle bay to respond to the call. Emergencies are spontaneous so they must respond swiftly and efficiently.
With less than one minute to fully gear and depart, speed is key to mission success.
“My normal response when I hear “standby” is to stop what I am doing and listen to the announcement to gather all the information to know what crews need to respond,” said Diaz. “If it’s an inflight emergency then it will be a crash response, if it’s a vehicle accident then rescue will respond.”
In the evening each person goes about their own business. As the calls slow down the responders get a chance to cook their dinners, scroll through social media or catch-up on some sleep. Some are even visited by their loved ones, as they are confined to the sanctum of the fire department.
“It’s important to have family come over to the fire department because we as firefighters spend more time at work then we do with our family,” said Diaz. “Having them come over allows us to spend time with them. It also boost morale, increases unity and aids in getting to know our firefighters on a personal level by having that relationship with their families.”
As the night comes to an end and the firefighters head to bed, they are greeted to the intercom announcing “standby for …” beginning the cycle all over again.