WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 27, 2012) -- The Department of Defense's Best Large and Small Fire Departments of the Year awards have been won by Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Meade, Md., respectively.

The Fire and Emergency Services Departments at Benning and Meade earned the DOD awards for achievements in 2011, after they were selected as best in the Army. U.S. Army Garrison Daegu, South Korea, also won Best Medium Fire Department at the Army level of competition.

"These are the best of the best," said John C. Erichsen, director, Army Fire and Emergency, who explained that the fire departments first had to win at the regional level, before going forward to Army and DOD.

"These departments, along with the Army winners, implemented best business practices, innovativeness and personal initiatives," said Erichsen. "These are just a few of the requirements. These competitions set a high bar that make for higher department standards and personal bests that improve year by year."

"We're ecstatic about the award," said Fort Benning's Fire Chief Darryl Stewart. "Everyone did their part and then some. It was a team effort."

Stewart said his department protects the DOD's sixth largest installation. Accomplishments included rescuing a hiker with head injuries during a severe snowstorm and being the first responder to a rolled-over 18-wheeler and entrapment, saving the driver's life, according to Stewart.

The department also responded to an EF2 tornado, which damaged two three-story barracks, a warehouse and 22 cars. Damage was about $3 million, he said. The department also battled an out-of-control duplex fire, saving surrounding structures from the conflagration.

Being good at putting out fires and saving lives are just two of the many criteria for the award, according to Fort Meade Fire Chief Edward Rouvet. He said all firefighters must also be trained in fire prevention and training, which includes public education, construction plans reviews, hazardous materials handling, weapons of mass destruction prevention, emergency medical services and "more."

More includes running the child safety seat program both on and off the installation and providing training for CPR and the 97 automatic, external defibrillators, located around the post. The AEDs are used for cardiac arrest. Also, some firefighters are specially trained as fire inspectors for existing and under-construction structures and dwellings.

Other challenges for the Fort Meade fire department include providing on-time EMS and fire response in less than 7 minutes on and off-post despite poor roads and congestion. Getting access to certain areas of the installation, which includes the National Security Agency, can be interesting, according to Fort Meade Division Chief Joseph VanMeter. He explained that normally an escort is needed to enter their sensitive compartmented information facilities.

The Fort Meade FD provided life-saving support to 258,000 people last year.

"We're Maryland's second-largest city in terms of our people-coverage area," Rouvet said. "That's a lot of people we serve, for being the best 'small' fire department in DOD."