A day in the life of a fire fighter

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Natasha E. Stannard
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
It's a process created by a series of actions and changes. When sufficient amounts of fuel, oxygen, and heat exist simultaneously, a chemical reaction ignites an uncontrolled combustion more commonly known as fire. The color and intensity of a fire's flame, which is a mixture of reacting gases and solids emitting visible and infrared light, depends on the type of fuel that is consumed, and the impurities around it. Red flames usually produce a lower temperature while white flames produce higher temperatures.
According to Air Force Emergency Management, the heat from a fire can scorch lungs in a single breath. Fire is the fourth leading accidental killer in the U.S. 

With these dangerous facts representing a completely uncontrollable combustion that produces a temperature of 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit when lit to a mere candle wick, fire fighters face a great risk when they run straight into a building that everyone else is scrambling to evacuate. 

"You can only control so much and there's not much control in a fire," said Senior Airman Nicholas Ralph, 92nd Civil Engineering Squadron fire fighter.

Tech. Sgt. Charles Murray, assistant fire chief with the 92nd Civil Engineering Squadron, has been a fire fighter with the Air Force for 12 years. He said fire fighters typically work 24 to 48 hour shifts. The team has a set schedule consisting of briefings, checking out government owned vehicles, on the job training, physical training, chow time, and finally at 4:30 p.m. free time. However, much like a flame, this schedule is not always predictable. At any hour these courageous fighters and rescuers are called upon to do exactly what their title entails, fight fire. 

"You never know what's going to happen; there's always that possibility of running into a burning building," Airman Ralph said.

Battling uncontrollable flames is not the only task these Airmen and contractors are faced with. They also receive training that prepares them to provide medical aid as a first responder to injured people either from a fire or other accident. 

"We get on scene and if someone is not doing well, or if they're in a cardiac arrest we can actually bring them back using CPR," Sergeant Murray said.

They save lives and fight fires, all of which is done with various equipment they're trained to use and operate. They drive vehicles that contain up to 5,000 gallons of water, which is used to put out the fire, along with tools like the Jaws of Life which aid in rescuing people.

"I was in Germany and this kid, he must have been about eight years old, was playing between a dumpster and a wall, and the dumpster was on rollers - he was pinned between the dumpster and the wall and he couldn't move so we had to go in there, and we used the jaws of life," Sergeant Murray said. "We put it up against the wall so it was able to push the dumpster away from the building so we could get the kid unstuck."

These fire fighters, who are from all over the country, are brought together to work for 48 hours at a time. They form a common bond and circle of trust to fight, prepare to fight, and rescue from what the fire triangle produces. The team uses the concept of team work to the ultimate level as they work with a fellow Airman from a different career field, Airman Destry Swadoski, 92nd Civil Engineering Squadron, emergency management/readiness, said. 

"They took me in and treated me well," Airman Destry said. 

Forty eight hours can be a long time to be away from family, which is why the fire department is a second family. The crew not only cooks, eats, plays games, and cleans like the average family, but they also support one another after traumatic incidents. When they have a big incident they come together and debrief, which helps people that aren't accustomed to dealing with the stress of seeing such incidents. It helps let each other know they're not alone in their feelings, said Sergeant Murray. 

"I like being at work because I like the people I work with so much. We are a family, it's a brotherhood, that's how we describe ourselves for the most part," Senior Airman Nicholas Ralph, 92nd Civil Engineering Squadron fire fighter, said.

They hardly get tired of one another because shifts alternate so on the second day of a 48 hour shift they typically work with different people. This also strengthens the team because some of the guys specialize in different areas of fire fighting and rescue. Some specialize in fighting fires in a structure, some know more about aircraft and hazard materials. Working with different people on a continuous basis helps the whole team because it sets Airmen up with more than just one role model so the information learned reaches across the spectrum, said Sergeant Murray.

"You learn how to do what you need to do, and learn to do it better," Airman Ralph said.

Two yeas ago Airman Ralph was part of a crew that protected a house from a large fire in Cheney, Wash. The fire surrounded the house and they stopped it from engulfing it. Its rewarding to save people and their property, said Airman Ralph.

"When people see us coming to them they know we're trying to help them," Airman Ralph said. "So people are always excited to see us because we're there to help, nothing bad comes from a fire truck."

This is a job that exceeds its title of fire fighter, its more than fighting the flames. People have mentalities in the fire department. Some put a lot of emphasis on the rescues while others put a lot on fighting the fire, but one can't be done without the other and nothing can be done without one another, Sergeant Murray said.

"If you are rescuing bodies, getting people out of the aircraft then someone else has to put the fire out," Sergeant Murray said.

Trust encompasses the life of a fire fighter. The crew depends on one another to get the jobs done, put out fires and save lives. The fighter operating the fire truck makes sure the ones going into the fire are getting a sufficient amount of water to defeat the fire, while the fire chiefs are orchestrating the fight and rescue and the rescue crew makes sure that everyone gets out safely. They check each others gear ensuring no one goes in ill equipped. They walk in as a crew and out as a crew, one behind another displaying what it truly means to have each others' back.

"You know you can trust one another, if you don't have trust in one another it's a hard job to do," Sergeant Murray said.