FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Eric Harper has been fighting fires for most of his life.

The Los Angeles native took the helm of the Fort Jackson Fire Department in December, replacing Bill Forrester, who retired as fire chief last September.

"Chief Forrester led a good crew," Harper said. "These are professional firefighters who have been together for quite some time, and I'm the new guy. It really does take leadership savvy to acclimate yourself to what's going on here."

Harper spent the last nine years working for the Fort Knox Fire Department, leaving the post as deputy fire chief. He actually got his start as a firefighter for the Air Force, following in the footsteps of his uncle, a Los Angeles city firefighter.

"My life has closely followed his patterns, from the standpoint of military service and service within the fire department," he said. "When I went into the (Military Entrance Processing Station) building, I had the option of becoming a firefighter, and the rest is history."

He has only vague memories of his first emergency response call as a firefighter almost 30 years ago.

"It was probably something aircraft related, an in-flight emergency," he said. "The one thing I remember is that it was at night, which brings with it different challenges. We train in the daylight hours, but we train in the nighttime hours, as well, to acclimate ourselves to situations with reduced visibility. Twenty-nine years later, I'm a little more comfortable with it."

Harper said the seven "command philosophies" of Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts, commanding general of Fort Jackson, are an inspiration to him. Those philosophies encourage Soldiers to be positive, competent, disciplined, team players, good to people, to be of good character and to be risk managers.

"I think it's critical to what we do here," Harper said. "I came in and read those seven command philosophies and was excited about them. It's exactly what I want to push and who I want to be, so I was pleased to read his command philosophies."

"Chief Harper comes to Fort Jackson with impeccable credentials and experience," said Col. Michael Graese, Fort Jackson garrison commander. "We are blessed to have him leading our fire department. His 20 years as an Air Force fireman, combined with the years of experiences and knowledge learned at Fort Knox make him the ideal fit for our fire department, one that strives to be the best in the entire Army."

"I'm qualified to do this for any municipality across the country," Harper said. "However, I choose to do this for the Department of the Army, because it closely relates me to the troops. And I like that -- serving the troops. I've really inherited a great bunch of firefighters, and the command staff is top-notch. All of that just leads to the betterment of our Soldiers here on Fort Jackson. It's an honor."

Harper has been married for 26 years to his "childhood sweetheart," and is the father of three children. He has a daughter, who is a college senior at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., and a teenage son considering a career in the military.

"And I have a soon-to-be 11 year old anxiously awaiting to join me here," he said. "However, my family is going to finish the school year in Kentucky before joining me here."