By Marisa Petrich, Northwest GuardianJuly 5, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (July 5, 2012) -- Firefighter Will Odom will tell you that this isn't his first rodeo.
He and a team of four other experienced Joint Base Lewis-McChord, or JBLM, firefighters and one firefighter paramedic left for Fort Carson, Colo., Saturday, where they will help relieve teams that have been stretched thin since wildfires broke out across the state.
The "first" will actually be for JBLM Fire and Emergency Services -- this is the first time JBLM sent first responders to help another military installation.
"I have never known this to happen before," JBLM fire chief Dean Dixon said.
The team of six, all civilians, reported to Fort Carson and will spend two weeks doing whatever needs to be done. They may be out fighting wild land fires -- the entire team is qualified to do so -- so their colleagues can move away from the line, but they could just as easily end up covering a short-staffed fire station on base. The point is the team is there to help.
"They'll allow the Fort Carson guys a break because they've been working pretty much non-stop since the fire started," Dixon said.
In fact, the idea has been around for some time. Dixon remembers fire chiefs years ago discussing the concept when disasters cropped up. When a hurricane hits or a fire burns out of control, many emergency services implement mutual aid agreements to help one another. Installation fire departments frequently forge similar understandings with local civilian authorities.
If a fire department in Pierce County needs extra crews, for instance, they can call on JBLM and, vice versa, the installation can call on the county if necessary to reciprocate. The recurring question was why military installations didn't enter into similar arrangements with each other.
When the fire chief at Fort Carson asked the U.S. Army's Installation Management Command for the assistance of eight firefighters from other installations last week, Dixon moved quickly to assess which departments could spare the manpower. In the end, he identified six, along with their protective gear. Two others will join them from Fort Hood, Texas, with another pair on standby from Fort Bliss, Texas.
Dixon worked at Fort Carson for 20 years and counts the fire chief there among his friends, but he also wants arrangements like this between military installations to become the norm.
"Hopefully this will set off a trend so if something bad ever happened here, we could count on another installation to step up to the plate and help us out," he said.
The JBLM team left with their personal gear, including sleeping bags, so its members can sleep where they can, when they can. One of the benefits of sending firefighters from another installation is that they can be ready to work almost as soon as they arrive. Really, it's just a matter of getting them there.
"It's a job we do every day anyway. It's not like we're going out of our element; it's just a different location," said Capt. Glenn Rex.
One of the firefighters even worked at Fort Carson, transferring to JBLM a few years ago.
For the most part, the group volunteered for the same reason -- someone needed help and they were able to give it. Odom decided to go in part because he has family spread all over Colorado, but in the end, that's just a detail.
"It's our job. We're here to help the community, whether it's here or there," he said.
That's exactly the philosophy Dixon was hoping to find among his firefighters.
"If somebody needs help, it's pretty simple," he said.