NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — For the men and women charged with keeping the Nellis Air Force Base community protected from medical, fire and hazardous materials emergencies, proficiency is never enough. One walk through the halls of Nellis Fire Station 1 and this philosophy becomes quite evident; every day is a training day.
The fire protection specialists assigned to the 99th Civil Engineer Squadron train night and day to fulfill their wide array of responsibilities, many of which don’t include fire at all. In addition to fighting the blazing infernos commonly associated with the job, fire protection specialists are tasked to handle anything from gas leaks to broken arms to an emergency aircraft engine shutdown.
“Medical response calls, hot aircraft brakes, hydraulics – we get a little bit of everything,” said Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Wyatt, 99th CES fire protection flight trainer. “Our greatest priority is to support flightline operations, but we’re equally ready to handle structural and medical emergencies.”
In the earliest stages of their training, Air Force firefighters receive world-class instruction at the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy at Goodfellow AFB, Texas. Opened in 1995, the academy is among the most modern fire training facilities available in the world and provides internationally certified graduates to the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps and DOD civilian units.
Airman First Class Cameron Shawcross, 99th CES fire protection apprentice, is a recent graduate of the program, which is broken up into six instructional blocks that lay the foundation for the vast amount of knowledge required to respond to various emergencies in the community.
“I personally enjoyed the training, even looking back at the times when it was really hard,” Shawcross said. “But the fact that they continued to push you and push you as you worked with classmates was a huge motivational factor.”
At the academy, trainees from all branches of service learn the basics of emergency medical response, fire prevention, tools and equipment, firefighting maneuvers, hazardous material operations and airfield disaster response.
“Being part of Air Combat Command here at Nellis I definitely think it’s a good thing that we got that airfield familiarization,” Shawcross said.
After a new firefighter apprentice has taken the steps to become operational, they’re assigned to one of Nellis’ three fire stations located strategically throughout the base to ensure rapid response to any given location. The new firefighter is then assigned to a shift.
“Right now we’re running our shift in groups – two days on, and three days off,” Wyatt said.
But these aren’t your average 12 hour shifts.
“We go 48 hours straight,” said Airman 1st Class Joshua Cole, 99th CES fire protection apprentice. On a scheduled duty day, firefighters arrive at 7:00 a.m. for roll-call, where they debrief the happenings of the previous shift. After roll-call, the shift begins.
“Making sure our vehicles are fueled up and ready to go, check your tools, perform function checks – it’s all a process,” said Wyatt, a ten year firefighter who joined the career field originally seeking a challenge and wanting to stay physically fit. “Every day is a training day. We’re constantly doing things that will make us better.”
At Nellis, firefighters continue building on the basics they learned at Goodfellow, implementing the tactics and techniques they’ve learned in hands-on training scenarios. Fire crews can frequently be found maneuvering on Nellis’ aircraft burn trainer, a simulated aircraft crash site rigged to go up in flames with the push of a button.
In a perfect world, on-shift firefighters wake up, train, sleep and then train again; but things don’t always go so well. Even while pulling dummies out of a trainer aircraft or sleeping in a bunk at 2 a.m., these Airmen are always on call. Every day is a training day, so if a time ever comes when you may need them, you can bet the men and women of the 99th CES fire protection flight will know what they’re doing.
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