Hurlburt Field firefighters do it all

  • Published
  • By Jamie Haig
  • 16th SOW Public Affairs
Thanks to television and the movies, people think firefighters sit around playing cards or watching television when they're not out fighting fires - just kicking back waiting for the bell to sound, propelling them into action.

That's not the case at the Hurlburt Field fire stations.

Graduating from the 16-week Department of Defense's Lewis F. Garland Fire Academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, is just the tip of the training iceberg for these men and women.

As Air Force firefighters, they're required to have training in not only aircraft and structural fires, confined spaces and telecommunications, but also in hazardous materials, first responder team and emergency medical technicians, to name a few.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Chief Master Sgt. E.J. Rouvet, 16th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire and Emergency Services Flight and Hurlburt Field's fire chief. "We need them to be the best trained, and this training makes them the best. But we end up losing them to a downtown station."

Of the 71 firefighters stationed here, 17 are new Air-men right out of the academy. It's up to the more experienced men and women in the squadron to fine-tune the basic training.

The firefighters, new and experienced, train every day for something different - enabling them to be able to handle any type of emergency that should arise.

The training spectrum is wide, from aircraft rescue and fire fighting, to testing and checking hoses and handling control burns.

"The structure collapse training is important in this area," said Michael Blakely, deputy fire chief. "Whether there's a hurricane or a tornado, they've got to know how to search for and get people out of a building safely."

At least once a month, the fire fighting Airmen train with community fire stations because many calls require both departments to re-spond.

"This base is tight with the community," said Chief Rouvet. "The fire chiefs also meet once a month to keep current on what's new and what's changed."

This week, The Hurlburt Field fire department was training with Okaloosa Island, Ocean City-Wright and Valparaiso fire departments on using the Jaws of Life and putting out a fire within a vehicle. Two abandoned car doors were hammered shut and the less-experienced fire fighters were taught how to remove the doors to save someone's life.

The Hurlburt Field firemen's job is a little more complicated than civilian firemen, because they've got to know every aircraft in the Air Force.

"We've got to be familiar with not only all of our aircraft stationed here, but any others that come here to train with our people," said Mr. Grindland. "We've got to know the shut-down procedures, what hazards might be on that aircraft, if they have flares, what types of weapons, how do we gain entry and extricate the crew."

They learn a lot of it from technical orders, but when a non-Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft comes to the base, the fire fighters are the first ones asking permission to get hands-on experience.

"Crew members are really good about working with our people," said Mr. Grindland. "After all, if something happens to their plane while it's here, they want us to know how to get them out. And when our people de-ploy, this information is invaluable to them."

Fortunately for the people that live and work on base, the fire fighters don't have to respond to many structural fires.

"We get more medical calls than anything else," Mr. Grindland said. "And it's because of great fire prevention that keeps it safe here on base."

These devoted fire fighters work 24 hours on and have 24 hours off.

Besides the daily training and maintenance and the calls they respond to, these Airmen still have their military obligations to attend to as well.

All their additional duties keep these men and women constantly busy.

"Some days, we don't get a chance to sleep between training and actual 911 calls," said Mr. Grindland. "We don't get holidays off, we're here everyday of the year, seven days a week."

Many times, the calls they respond to are off-base, either vehicular accidents or fires where additional manpower is needed.

In many instances, the accident or fire is right outside the gates of Hurlburt Field, and its firefighters can reach it faster than the other departments.

"A 'run card' is what tells us what fire engines are needed to respond for that call," said Chief Rouvet. "When we hear Station 14, we're gone."