Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. -- Sirens blare, red and blue lights flash, and a big, red truck pulls up. Out of the truck climb several firefighters, ready to respond to an emergency. Their uniforms may not quickly reveal it, but these firefighters may actually be Soldiers with the Military Occupational Speciality 12M.
JBLM is home to two units which have several firefighters, the 63rd Ordnance Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, and the 537th Engineer Detachment, 555th Engineer Brigade. Both units are located on JBLM-North. Currently there are 13 Soldier-firefighters at JBLM, and they are integrated into the base's fire department.
The firefighters work 48-hour shifts and are prepared to respond to structural and wildland fires, medical emergencies, airfield and hazardous emergencies, as well as automobile, aircraft and train accidents.
Firefighters from the 63rd Ordnance Co. were among the first responders to arrive on the scene of the DuPont Amtrak train derailment Dec. 18. Spc. Aaron Doherty and other firefighters responded and rendered emergency medical care to the passengers of the train, as well as commuters on Interstate 5.
Doherty spent nearly four hours beyond the end of his shift on the scene providing medical aid and helping to rescue passengers from the rail cars. Later in the incident, Spc. Justin Mathieu, 63rd Ord Co, also assisted with search and rescue of additional victims and provided safety supervision of the scene.
"I was in 'go' mode," Doherty said about his actions during the derailment response. He said the incident, and other emergency responses he has been a part of, have changed his outlook on life and military service, particularly as a firefighter.
"It changes your perspective on this job and how important it is to know your stuff and that you do your training," he said. "It really opens your eyes. You realize there is so much more to learn and so much more than putting out simple fires. These people are depending on you to know what you are doing and how to take care of them. You are helping those people in possibly the worst time of their lives."
Soldier-firefighters respond to emergencies, receive training and certifications and fill non-traditional roles in the fire department such as medical supervisor officer's assistant and fire department supply officer. They also serve an important role as liaisons between the fire department management, the operational firefighters and the Army on mission planning.
"We have one of the best (jobs) in the Army," Doherty said. "It is humbling. We appreciate the training we get and the relationships we develop with each other and the (Department of Emergency Services) civilians. What we do is pretty incredible. We are always thinking about how we can do our job better because of the seriousness of it."
Doherty's commanding officer agrees.
"Soldiers are those people who, when tragedy strikes, snap into action, throw themselves into the chaos, and take care of the people around them," said Capt. Aaron J. Ullrich, commander of the 63rd Ordnance Co. "The difference with Soldier-firefighters is that their job entails doing it on an almost daily basis. Taking the Army as a whole into account, they are one of the MOSs that is kind of 'behind the scenes.' The irony is that these Soldiers are the ones who, when you need it most, will be literally 'on scene'."