Fort Leonard Wood's Fire Department now carries the distinction of being the best 2015 Fire Department (small) of the Year for the Installation Management Command's Central Region.

Additionally, Spc. Alex Fleites, 5th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, was chosen as IMCOM's top military firefighter.

Both the fire department, which falls under the Directorate of Emergency Services, and Fleites are in competition at the Army-level competition. Army winners advance to the Department of Defense.

"The award speaks to the dedication and professionalism of our firefighters," said Kevin Curtis, assistant fire chief. "We're ecstatic. Everyone did their part and then some. It was a team effort."

Being good at putting out fires and saving lives are just two of the many criteria for the award, Curtis said, noting all firefighters and fire inspectors must be trained in firefighting, fire prevention and public education, construction plans reviews, hazardous-materials handling, weapons of mass destruction prevention, emergency medical services and more.

Fort Leonard Wood's Fire Department is responsible for inspecting 13.5 million square-feet of facilities to ensure they meet fire-code regulations. In addition, the department responded to 1,302 emergencies last year.

"Our firefighters are some of the best in the country," Curtis said. "They live up to the motto, 'Protecting Those Who Defend America.'"

The department's Swift Water Rescue team saved lives on several occasions, according to the nomination package. Firefighters searched for and rescued two fishermen whose boat overturned and three kayakers stranded in fast-moving water on the Gasconade River.

Fleites was also credited with a rescue. When a woman's arm was stuck in an air vent, he applied cooking oil to extract the arm. He also responded to a waterline break, in which his salvage efforts saved thousands of dollars, according to his nomination package.

"I like the challenges a day at the fire station can bring. Even though the days are planned out, you never know what's going to happen," Fleites said.

The San Juan, Puerto Rico native said even though each day is different, that aspect makes his job great and the award meaningful.

"The award means a lot to me, because I get to serve others by doing the job I love," Fleites said. "Also it means a great deal to me and the fire department, because it shows we put a lot of pride and dedication in our work."

The fire department has been recognized for excellence every year and 21 times, since 2005. That includes five U.S. Army and four Department of Defense awards.