More than 13,000 people are connected to Edwards AFB, both military and civilian. With five stations, the Edwards AFB Fire and Emergency Services department is well-equipped to protect those people in the event of an emergency.
In addition to structural response, the department is trained to offer emergency medical response, rescue of any type, hazardous materials response and aircraft response.
“Our stations are all geographically located to meet response times. They’ve been located so that no matter what the emergency, we can get the appropriate unit there in the required amount of time and, in most cases, less than the required amount of time,” said Chief Michael Hurles, Fire and Emergency Services.
Station 1, is situated on the flightline, ready for structural, medical and especially aircraft response, one of the more unique capabilities of the fire services on base. Similarly, Station 3, at South Base is equipped for the same.
In addition to emergency aircraft response, they support operational test aircraft. For example, a test may require the use of a wet runway, a service that the fire department is able to offer. An engineer may specify how much water is required to collect proper data, and then the fire team will wet the runway and standby in case of emergency.
Their special equipment includes a crash fire truck which typically carries 3,000 gallons of water and several hundred gallons of foam and can discharge those materials while in motion.
“They might do a brake test and test it to destruction. They actually get fire on the wheels and they want to burn it for a certain amount of time and then they tell us to put it out. They want to measure the fire’s rate of spread and degradation of the tires,” said Hurles.
At Station 2, located in the housing area, is an Urban Search and Rescue trailer, prepared for natural disasters and any kind of structural collapse.
“That’s not something that comes into play every day, but when, not if, the big earthquake hits, that is going to be very important and we have that capability,” said Matt Guggemos, assistant chief of operations.
Hurles added, “NASA does a lot of construction and has open trenches. A lot of our guys are trained in trench collapse.”
Station 4, at the Air Force Research Laboratory, and Station 5 at North Base, have the special duty of hazardous materials response. According to Deputy Fire Chief Kluas Koepp, it’s the only HAZMAT response team “from here to Bakersfield.”
Fire Services holds mutual aid agreements with L.A. County, Kern County, San Bernadino County and California Forestry and Fire Protection. The agreements allow the base department to aide in emergencies that spread the other departments too thin. For example, they may help by providing a water tender and an additional truck.
“Typically we go out the gate,” said Hurles. “We’ve never had someone come in the gate to help us.”
Station 5, the primary hazardous materials response team, also does Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting, which is a very specialized service.
When an emergency does occur, the calls go through the Emergency Communication Center and medical and fire units are dispatched. “It’s like a 911 center for the base,” said Hurles.
ECC Operations also include receiving afterhours work orders which might include leaky pipes or loose ceiling materials. They also support construction and remodels, by facilitating welding and burn permits as well as, maintaining records.
After ECC receives a call, emergency medical services sends emergency medical technicians to the scene. There are 30 job positions for EMTs on base, but 90 members of the staff are qualified for the job. They are the first responders on scene and can provide basic life support until the paramedics arrive and administer medications.
“That becomes really serious. Especially with heart attacks, car wreaks or even a diabetic attack,” said Hurles.
If two or more agencies respond to an incident, the fire department receives incident command.
“It could be a pandemic, active shooter, structural emergency or crash. Basically any emergency which has two agencies respond, which they all do, we have incident command on it,” said Hurles.
The responding agency however, maintains operational command. The incident command has eyes on scene and makes the determination of what materials are required and then provides the necessary resources.
“We’re running things, but we’re doing it as ‘you tell us what you need and we’re going to get it for you,’” said Guggemos.
When there is no emergency, the fire department offers preventative services like evacuation drills and reviewing the effectiveness of current evacuation plans. They may also teach people to operate fire extinguishers and check for fire hazards.