By Jennifer HartwigFebruary 13, 2012
HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. - There are seven Soldiers with the 24th Ordnance Company assigned to Hunter Army Airfield. These six men and one woman have one of the rarest jobs in the Army -- they are seven of just 300 active-duty firefighters in the Army.
On Hunter, the 24th Ordnance Co. firefighters work at the fire station augmenting the civilian firefighters --working and training side-by-side.
"We get the training that we need to go downrange so that we are able to do our jobs," said Staff Sgt. Eric Martinson, noncommissioned officer in charge, said of working at the Hunter Fire Department. "We get all of the knowledge that these guys have had through all the years. We've got a lot of young guys, so it helps them out, and we also meet [training] requirements."
The Soldier firefighters at Hunter are a rare unit even within the small active-duty firefighting population -- the majority of active-duty firefighters are in firefighter-specific detachments.
"They have their trucks, all of their equipment, bunker gear, air cylinders, masks, and they can deploy as firefighter wherever they go -- they will deploy as firefighter whenever they go," Staff Sgt. Martinson said. "That's the difference between our companies -- we could deploy as Soldiers [not specifically as firefighters]."
The Soldier firefighters at Hunter don't have their own bunker gear, they use the civilian gear, but they do have two of their own trucks. But these aren't your standard fire trucks -- for starters, they aren't red. The Tactical Fire Fighting Truck is an 8,000 pound fire-fighting vehicle based off the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck chassis. The TFFT is equipped with a 1,000-gallon water tank, 2,000 feet of hose, 1,000 gallon-per-minute pump, 500 GPM roof and 250 GPM bumper turrets, and has storage compartments for anything you could need at the scene of a fire -- including hydraulic generator, rescue tools, saws, extraction equipment and EMS equipment.
They wear the same gear and work on 24-hour shifts together, but the Soldiers aren't part of the Hunter Fire Department's manning, which means the Soldiers provide department with much-needed extra manpower.
"They love having us here," Staff Sgt. Martinson said. "The way we work together, even though we're in different uniforms, we're still on the same team. We are just basically supplementing man power that they might not have at the time of an incident and they love that."
The Soldier and civilian firefighters at Hunter go to the same fire academy -- the Department of Defense Fire Academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. A majority of the civilian firefighters at Hunter are prior military, so they enjoy working with the Soldiers and sharing their experience.
"Being in the fire department, training is really important," said Bradley Stewart, a firefighter assigned to Hunter. "Working with the Soldiers not only gives us the opportunity to train them, but they teach us new techniques in fire fighting."
With more fires at Hunter in the past two months than all of the last year, the support of the Soldiers is especially needed.
"Having seven additional firefighters is a huge boost in not only our manning but also our capability," said Stewart. "Having a Soldier out on the fire ground is no different than having a civilian firefighter; they bring the same amount of expertise to the table and they give us an extra person that we wouldn't otherwise have."
The civilians and Soldiers all believe that working together makes each a better firefighter.
"The Army is all about different variations of tactical firefighting, meaning there are many different ways of doing the same thing, and through [the Soldiers'] training in the battle field, they bring back valuable skills that we can utilize here," said Erik McClintock, assistant chief for fire operations for the Hunter Fire Department. "The more opinions and ideas you get, the more eyes you have on something, the better you can problem solve."