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Shaw firefighters: keeping our community safe

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SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Staff Sgt. Jarius Ballard, Airman 1st Class Aaron Hanson and Airman 1st Class Justin Ray battle a fire during a structural fire training exercise April 27, 2010. The 20th Civil Engineer Squadron plans exercises like this throughout the year to provide hands on experience and training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Neil D. Warner)

100427-F-6838W-010 SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Staff Sgt. Jarius Ballard, Airman 1st Class Aaron Hanson and Airman 1st Class Justin Ray battle a fire during a structural fire training exercise April 27, 2010. The 20th Civil Engineer Squadron plans exercises like this throughout the year to provide hands on experience and training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Neil D. Warner)

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SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Airman 1st Class Aaron Hanson and Airman 1st Class Justin Ray battle a fire during a structural fire training exercise April 27, 2010. The 20th Civil Engineer Squadron plans exercises like this throughout the year to provide hands on experience and training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Neil D. Warner)

100427-F-6838W-010 SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Airman 1st Class Aaron Hanson and Airman 1st Class Justin Ray battle a fire during a structural fire training exercise April 27, 2010. The 20th Civil Engineer Squadron plans exercises like this throughout the year to provide hands on experience and training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Neil D. Warner)

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SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Airman 1st Class Brandon Smith looks on during a structural fire training exercise on April 27, 2010. The 20th Civil Engineer Squadron plans exercises like this throughout the year to provide hands on experience and training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Neil D. Warner)

100427-F-6838W-010 SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Airman 1st Class Brandon Smith looks on during a structural fire training exercise on April 27, 2010. The 20th Civil Engineer Squadron plans exercises like this throughout the year to provide hands on experience and training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Neil D. Warner)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- The smoke poured out of the building as the red fire truck rolled down the pathway. A couple of firefighters jumped out of the truck and connected the main line to the fire hydrant. As the truck pulled up the building, more firefighters jumped out and unrolled more lines, ready to extinguish the fire.

Their chief assessed the situation as the rest of the team took their positions, waiting for the directions and the go ahead.

Once they received their orders, they rushed in with their adrenaline pumping and extinguished the fire.

This was not a real life emergency, but an exercise.

"Today's scenario was a one-story family dwelling, fire and smoke showing from the first floor," said Staff Sgt. Jarius Ballard, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter crew chief.

"We perform these exercises to simulate real-world situations," said Senior Airman Douglas Trojanowski, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, "for this exercise, wood and hay were used to help give a realistic effect for the fire and smoke."

Drilling is how they get better, explained Airman Douglas. It lets them see their mistakes as well as how and where they need to improve. Whether it's an aircraft or structural fire and rescue, in-flight emergency or on-base call, they aim to be the best.

Much of their job goes beyond putting out fires, Airman Douglas went on. They go around base and check fire safety issues in the buildings. The firefighters also perform F-16 hazard training by familiarizing themselves with the different fuels and making sure weapons are pinned properly on the planes. Pilot emergency exits are another part of the job, as well.

Most of the calls the firefighters get are alarm calls, whether it's a vehicle accident, an in-flight emergency or someone smells smoke, said Airman Douglas. Fires generally happen here once every couple of months.

"I've dealt with this two or three times, but there's guys who've dealt with this a lot more than me because they volunteer off base as well," said Sergeant Ballard.

The Shaw firefighters have a mutual-aid agreement with the city of Sumter, explained Airman Douglas. Off-base calls are pretty random and are generally caused by the weather.

Sergeant Ballard described how they respond to a scene, "When you first get on scene, you've got to look at the big picture, really. You've got to see what's going on around you, make sure you don't miss anything. The things that are going through your mind: are there any victims inside, who's missing, is everyone accounted for? You have to make sure your guys are safe. Their safety is first. Make sure your PPE (personal protective equipment) is on, make sure you have good communication through your control center, things like that."

When the call comes in, they have two minutes to put on their extra 60 pounds of gear and get out of the station, said Airman Douglas. After that, it takes about two to five minutes to get to the call.

The life of a firefighter requires long hours, described Airman Douglas. They work 24 hour shifts; 24 on, 24 off. That will last for five shifts, and then they'll get three days off.

"I get to see my wife about every other day and on the weekends," he said. "It's hard to have a family and be a firefighter, but the job makes me a better husband. It gives me the opportunity to miss my wife."

Airman Douglas's most memorable moment was about two months ago, a civilian had collapsed on the track. While they were on the way someone had started CPR on him. When they got to the scene, they hooked him up with the defibrillator. About halfway back, they brought him back to life.

"It was awesome to see a life actually get saved," remarked Airman Douglas.

"Most people don't realize that we see a lot of death," added Airman Douglas. "You have to put that aside, get it out of your mind, and get on with reality. It's hard not to take your work home with you."

"There's not too many people who can do this job," said Sergeant Ballard. "You have to have courage, strength, endurance. Just to run inside a burning building to save people, it takes a lot to accomplish that."

It's hard work, but helping people and having the opportunity to make a difference is worth it, said Airman Douglas.

Being able to do this job comes through both mental and physical preparation, added Sergeant Ballard.

"I can imagine myself being in that situation," he said. "How will I feel if my house is burning? You know what I'm saying? I would want someone to help me save my property and my life because my life is important to me."

By putting themselves in the situations of the victims, they are able to overcome almost any challenge.