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Through fire, flames: What it takes to be Little Rock AFB firefighter

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kevin Sommer Giron
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Working 24-hour shifts, donning 50-to 70-pounds of equipment in seconds and responding to life threatening situations without hesitation is a glimpse into what it takes to be a 19th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department firefighter.

After completing four months of rigorous technical training, a gratifying career protecting the U.S Air Force community and its resources around the globe will likely follow.

“It takes heart and dedication to become a firefighter,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Caldwell, 19th CES Fire Protection journeyman. “It’s a physically demanding job — I’m not a big guy but there are plenty of people my size or bigger that can do it as long as they have the drive.”

For a Little Rock AFB firefighter, an average day consists of maintaining an unparalleled 24-hour mental and physical readiness.

“It’s our lifestyle,” said Airman 1st Class Tevado Beckford, 19th CES Fire Protection apprentice, “People’s lives are in our hands so we have to go the extra mile. We have to have a drive to push ourselves to become physically and mentally stronger.”

To stay physically fit, the Airmen trade in their firehose for dumbbells in the department’s gym. They also perform physical training tailored to improving their emergency response duties by incorporating their tools and practices in work outs.

The firefighters also conduct live-fire training and drills to keep their skill set sharp.

Live-fire training gives the firefighters a controlled environment to extinguish an unpredictable element, while drills and exercises help them sustain a rapid response time.

Fighters also ensure their equipment and vehicles are fully operable by performing weekly inspection checks.  

Once all tasks are complete, the Airmen have time to unwind in the department’s dormitories, living area or kitchen. The atmosphere is relaxed yet on a moment’s notice, the emergency alarm could sound making the department come alive as Airmen don their trousers, coats, boots and gloves in seconds.

“I always tell them once you hear the alarm go off act like you’re going to your family’s house,” Caldwell said. “You want the best people to be on call for your family so make sure you do that for everyone else on this base.”

Although their job requires an unparalleled dedication, morale is never lacking as the Airmen lean on each other for support.

“We spend 24 hours here so we grow to know each other beyond the uniform — we are a family,” Caldwell said.