Chasing the dream to fight; a firefighter's story

Airman 1st Class Shawn Mercer, 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, stands proudly in front of a fire engine May 25, 2016, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. Fire Protection specialists deal with everything from brush fires to burning rocket fuel and hazardous material fires. After the initial 7.5 weeks of Basic Military Training, Airmen who want to be firefighters will attend Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas for five months of basic firefighting skills. “My uncle was a firefighter and I loved hearing his stories,” Mercer said. “I went along with the volunteer firefighters from my town a few times to watch and knew it is what I wanted to do.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Taylor Shelton)

Airman 1st Class Shawn Mercer, 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, stands proudly in front of a fire engine May 25, 2016, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. Fire Protection specialists deal with everything from brush fires to burning rocket fuel and hazardous material fires. After the initial 7.5 weeks of Basic Military Training, Airmen who want to be firefighters will attend Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas for five months of basic firefighting skills. “My uncle was a firefighter and I loved hearing his stories,” Mercer said. “I went along with the volunteer firefighters from my town a few times to watch and knew it is what I wanted to do.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Taylor Shelton)

Airman 1st Class Shawn Mercer, 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, runs with a fire hose May 25, 2016, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. “I learned everything about shooting water from the trucks to being able to protect myself from fire,” Mercer said. “What we learn in technical school doesn’t always apply to where we are, so on the job training is important.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Taylor Shelton)

Airman 1st Class Shawn Mercer, 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, runs with a fire hose May 25, 2016, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. “I learned everything about shooting water from the trucks to being able to protect myself from fire,” Mercer said. “What we learn in technical school doesn’t always apply to where we are, so on the job training is important.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Taylor Shelton)

Staff Sgt. Patrick Guthrie, 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter crew chief, supports Airman 1st Class Shawn Mercer, 92nd CES firefighter, while demonstrating how to properly use a fire hose May 25, 2016, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. According to Mercer, knowing how to control the path of the fire and protecting the surrounding buildings, is one of the most important skills a firefighter possesses. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Taylor Shelton)

Staff Sgt. Patrick Guthrie, 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter crew chief, supports Airman 1st Class Shawn Mercer, 92nd CES firefighter, while demonstrating how to properly use a fire hose May 25, 2016, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. According to Mercer, knowing how to control the path of the fire and protecting the surrounding buildings, is one of the most important skills a firefighter possesses. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Taylor Shelton)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- When joining the Air Force, most people have an idea of what they want to do. For Airman 1st Class Shawn Mercer, 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, firefighting was the one career he wanted to be in.

"My uncle was a firefighter and I loved hearing his stories," Mercer said. "I went along with the volunteer firefighters from my town a few times to watch and knew it is what I wanted to do."

After the initial 7.5 weeks of Basic Military Training, Airmen who want to be firefighters attend technical training at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas for five months of learning basic firefighting skills. Fire protection specialists deal with everything from brush fires to burning rocket fuel and hazardous material fires.

"I learned everything from shooting water from the trucks to being able to protect myself from fire," Mercer said. "What we learn in technical school doesn't always apply to where we are, so on the job training is important."

According to Mercer, before they leave technical school, they must be certified in Firefighting One and Two. Firefighting One is understanding how specific fires operate. Firefighting Two is how to attack the fire and extinguish it.

"We need to know what would increase the fire and also what would help put it out," Mercer said. "A big thing is knowing what we can do to control the path of the fire and protect surrounding buildings."

Firefighters practice putting on gear at least once per shift and are constantly training to keep up certifications.

"During one training session, we went out to the annex and practiced looking for downed victims with something covering our face, so it was like we were blind," Mercer said. "We treated it like the building had no power and was filled with smoke. As firefighters, we need to know how to find the victims in a situation where we can't see what is around us."

Due to the amount of training and long hours at work, the Airmen usually spend most of their time at the fire house. Mercer said it's like having a second family.

"With how much time you spend together you end up building a strong brotherhood with the fellow Airmen," Mercer said. "I love my job and I love protecting people."