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Different helmets: Same mission

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

Engines, tool boxes and water tanks; if one ceased to exist, a fire truck would not be able to successfully serve its purpose. Just as the fire truck has different tools to accomplish a task, the 19th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department has different elements, both military and civilian personnel - to ensure seamless operations.

The fire department has 51 personnel currently assigned- seven civilians and 44 service members.

The 19th CES Fire Department staff is charged with protecting life, property and the environment within the boundaries of the Air Force installation, provide fire suppression forces, highly-capable rescue crews and aggressive fire prevention and education programs to protect the lives and property of the members on the installation. They are also tasked with preserving the installation’s ability to deliver unrivaled tactical airlift by responding to flightline emergencies.

“Any task, whether within the department or assigned from our leadership outside of the department, cannot be accomplished without the team effort of our military and civilian firefighters working together,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Mark Johnson, 19th Civil Engineer Squadron deputy fire chief.

Responding to calls on and around Little Rock AFB, the fire department responded to 646 emergencies in 2016.

“Under our mutual aid agreements with our local partners, 19th CES Fire Department can be requested to respond off base to any nature of emergency,” said James Farrell, 19th CES civilian assistant chief. “The personnel and skills we bring can be a tremendous asset to many of our partners.”

Fire Department civilians serve to provide continuity through knowledge of their particular installation and weapons systems, which is learned over their years of exposure. 

“Civilians exist to impart their knowledge and experiences on their younger troops,” Farrell said. “They work side by side, teaching the military the things they have learned over many years at the same installation. Conversely, our military teaches many of our civilian’s new techniques and skills they learned at other bases, things our civilians would not have otherwise been exposed to. It is a two way street. Both components of the total force contribute to the other. “

Service members work alongside civilian firefighters as one team to conduct training exercises and complete missions. Though the civilians make up a small portion of the fire department, they have a large impact.

“Our civilians hold a wide range of positions from the installation fire chief down to our lead firefighters working with the operations section,” Johnson said. “Three of our civilians hold key leadership positions within the department: the assistant chief of training, the assistant chief of fire prevention and one of two assistant chief of operations. Each one is just as important as our non-commissioned officers with regard to training and mentoring our young Airmen and firefighters.”

Training exercises are conducted to ensure safety and efficiency during real-world emergency situations. By preparing for what could happen, the fire department personnel are more knowledgeable in high stress situations. In 2016 alone, the department conducted 314 training sessions, averaging out to approximately 26 monthly training sessions. ­

 “We would absolutely not be able to complete the mission without the partnership with civilians,” Johnson said. “Although our department has only a small number of civilians, their knowledge and experience are vital to the department for the accomplishment of our mission.  Military members are constantly moving in and out of Little Rock AFB due to moving bases or deployments.  The steady state of our civilians is essential in maintaining continuity throughout the department.”