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Bringing the heat

A Soldier with the South Dakota National Guard puts out a fire during a nighttime fire training session at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Aug. 2, 2018. Ellsworth AFB’s fire department often conducts joint training missions with both local fire departments and the South Dakota National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

A Soldier with the South Dakota National Guard puts out a fire during a nighttime fire training session at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Aug. 2, 2018. Ellsworth AFB’s fire department often conducts joint training missions with both local fire departments and the South Dakota National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

Staff Sgt. Jordan LaPoint, a 28th Civil Engineer Squadron fire and emergency services crew chief, right, instructs a group of South Dakota National Guard firefighters during a nighttime fire training session at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Aug. 2, 2018. During the training, the Airmen and Soldiers rotated teams as they each reviewed the proper way to put out structure fires. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

Staff Sgt. Jordan LaPoint, a 28th Civil Engineer Squadron fire and emergency services crew chief, right, instructs a group of South Dakota National Guard firefighters during a nighttime fire training session at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Aug. 2, 2018. During the training, the Airmen and Soldiers rotated teams as they each reviewed the proper way to put out structure fires. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

A team of firefighters from the South Dakota National Guard and Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., watches as a fire blazes during a nighttime fire training session at Ellsworth AFB, Aug. 2, 2018. Ellsworth AFB’s fire department often conducts joint training missions with both local fire departments and the South Dakota National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

A team of firefighters from the South Dakota National Guard and Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., watches as a fire blazes during a nighttime fire training session at Ellsworth AFB, Aug. 2, 2018. Ellsworth AFB’s fire department often conducts joint training missions with both local fire departments and the South Dakota National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

A firefighter’s gear is displayed inside the fire department at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., July 31, 2018. A typical firefighting kit includes a turnout jacket and trousers, boots, helmet, self-contained breathing apparatus, and a protective hood. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

A firefighter’s gear is displayed inside the fire department at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., July 31, 2018. A typical firefighting kit includes a turnout jacket and trousers, boots, helmet, self-contained breathing apparatus, and a protective hood. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

A team of firefighters from the South Dakota National Guard and Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., prepare to enter a building during a nighttime fire training session at Ellsworth AFB, Aug. 2, 2018. Ellsworth AFB’s fire department often conducts joint training missions with both local fire departments and the South Dakota National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

A team of firefighters from the South Dakota National Guard and Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., prepare to enter a building during a nighttime fire training session at Ellsworth AFB, Aug. 2, 2018. Ellsworth AFB’s fire department often conducts joint training missions with both local fire departments and the South Dakota National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

Airmen from the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron’s fire department conduct water rescue training in the base lakes at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., July 31, 2018. During this training, the Airmen reviewed proper placements and techniques for rescuing a person who is drowning. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

Airmen from the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron’s fire department conduct water rescue training in the base lakes at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., July 31, 2018. During this training, the Airmen reviewed proper placements and techniques for rescuing a person who is drowning. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

Senior Airman Thomas Hill, a 28th Civil Engineer Squadron fire fighter, left, practices rescuing a drowning person during a water rescue training session in the base lakes on Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., July 31, 2018. When firefighters are called out to a water rescue, they must ensure they wear the proper personal floatation device. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

Senior Airman Thomas Hill, a 28th Civil Engineer Squadron fire fighter, left, practices rescuing a drowning person during a water rescue training session in the base lakes on Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., July 31, 2018. When firefighters are called out to a water rescue, they must ensure they wear the proper personal floatation device. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

Staff Sgt. Jordan LaPoint, a 28th Civil Engineer Squadron fire and emergency services crew chief, pulls a simulated drowning person inside a boat during water rescue training in the base lakes at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., July 31, 2018. When there are no fires threatening the base, the firefighters conduct routine training to ensure they are prepared for any situation where they are needed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

Staff Sgt. Jordan LaPoint, a 28th Civil Engineer Squadron fire and emergency services crew chief, pulls a simulated drowning person inside a boat during water rescue training in the base lakes at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., July 31, 2018. When there are no fires threatening the base, the firefighters conduct routine training to ensure they are prepared for any situation where they are needed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- When the flames of a fire swallow a home or an aircraft whole, everyone nearby runs far away from the danger. But, in the midst of the chaos and panic, a select group approaches the blaze in their bright red trucks and faded yellow suits: the firefighters.

The Airmen and civilians at Ellsworth Air Force Base’s fire department are entrusted with the safety and security of the people and aircraft on base.

“Our overall mission is the B-1s,” said Senior Airman James Blair, a 28th Civil Engineer Squadron fire and emergency services crew member. “We’re here to make sure they stay in the air so they can be anywhere, at any time, when our country needs them, to do whatever the mission requires.”

To get the job done, the base fire department is divided into separate sections – each with different responsibilities to keep their operations running smoothly.

“At the top, there is the fire chief and deputy fire chief, with logistics, [the] fire prevention team, and training underneath them,” Hill explained. “Our logistics side of the house works eight-hour days, whereas the operations side works 24 hours on duty, then 24 hours off duty. If there is ever a big incident that happens, that’s when all of our logistics and planning team [members] will be there.”

Before any of these Airmen can don their protective gear and respond to a call, they must complete the necessary training.

“For four months, we’re sent to Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas,” Hill said. “Our training is broken up into three or four separate blocks. We go over [emergency medical response], [airport rescue firefighting], malt water supply and pump operations.”

Blair explained that although firefighters go through an extensive four-month technical school, they still have to complete their career development courses once they arrive at their duty stations. Additionally, fire department members receive continuous on-the-job training.

“Our job always has new things to learn,” Blair explained.

Being stationed in South Dakota, one of the biggest threats these firefighters face is wildland and grassland fires.

“Most of the time different fires require different gear,” Hill said. “In a grassland fire, we typically wear much lighter flame-retardant pants and shirts, along with heavy duty leather boots. Yet, when there’s a structural fire, we bring our bunker gear, self-contained breathing apparatus and heavy duty boots, among other items that weigh an additional 120 pounds.”

Even when there are no fires to put out, the job never stops, whether there is training to be done or vehicles to clean and everything in between.

“When we’re not responding to a fire, we’re always doing some sort of training,” Blair said. “We could be doing anything from structural burns to water rescue. We don’t just sit around and play video games until we get a call.”

On some occasions, Ellsworth AFB’s fire department conducts joint training with Raid City’s fire department and the South Dakota National Guard.

“Whenever we do these joint training operations, it gives everyone a chance to trade techniques and share knowledge,” Hill said. “It also gives us an opportunity to build rapport.”

In the midst of the stress of the job and keeping the base and its resources safe, these firefighters take pride in what they do and have formed a tight bond.

“I love the comradery in our shop,” Blair said. “These guys are much more than coworkers to me – they’re my brothers. Even if we don’t all work the same shift, we’ve all bonded into a family.”

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