Fairchild Airmen serve as first responders for community

Spokane County Fire District 10 firefighters train during a West Plains Academy course December 4, 2014. After completion of the 12-week academy, firefighters continue their training with extensive emergency medical technician training and perfecting basic firefighting skills. (Courtesy Photo)

Spokane County Fire District 10 firefighters train during a West Plains Academy course December 4, 2014. After completion of the 12-week academy, firefighters continue their training with extensive emergency medical technician training and perfecting basic firefighting skills. (Courtesy Photo)

West Plains Academy trainees conduct basic firefighting skills during a course December 14, 2014. According to the Spokane County Fire District, 75 percent of its force is made up of volunteers. (Courtesy Photo)

West Plains Academy trainees conduct basic firefighting skills during a course December 14, 2014. According to the Spokane County Fire District, 75 percent of its force is made up of volunteers. (Courtesy Photo)

Members of the Spokane County Fire District 10 participate in an exercise during a West Plains Academy course December 14, 2014. The education conducted through the West Plains Academy curriculum arms volunteers with the skills, certifications and experience needed to find a career firefighting position after three to four years of dedicated volunteer service. (Courtesy Photo)

Members of the Spokane County Fire District 10 participate in an exercise during a West Plains Academy course December 14, 2014. The education conducted through the West Plains Academy curriculum arms volunteers with the skills, certifications and experience needed to find a career firefighting position after three to four years of dedicated volunteer service. (Courtesy Photo)

Volunteer firefighters with the Spokane County Fire District 10 participate in an exercise during a West Plains Academy course December 14, 2014. The West Plains Academy is a 12-week long program which arms new firefighters with the basic skills needed to be effective while not posing a risk to themselves or others. (Courtesy Photo)

Volunteer firefighters with the Spokane County Fire District 10 participate in an exercise during a West Plains Academy course December 14, 2014. The West Plains Academy is a 12-week long program which arms new firefighters with the basic skills needed to be effective while not posing a risk to themselves or others. (Courtesy Photo)


FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- As members of the United States Air Force, Fairchild Airmen are held to a higher standard to serve their country and give back to their local community. For some Airmen, utilizing their military skills to work alongside Spokane County Fire District firefighters has provided them a way to give back and discover a new passion.

“Fairchild Airmen volunteers have a lot of skills and experiences we don’t typically see in our civilian volunteers,” said Lt. Brett Anderson, Spokane County Fire District 10 fire prevention specialist. “They understand chain of command, the importance of physical conditioning and the value in continuing education.”

The most important aspect to becoming a volunteer firefighter is first having an interest in serving the community, said Anderson. It shouldn’t be about the pay, rather putting oneself in the position to help others while gaining unprecedented opportunities and skills.

“Some people want to go fishing, I want to spend my time driving a truck with lights and sirens,” said Tech. Sgt. Carlos Torres Figueroa, Fairchild Honor Guard NCO in charge. “Volunteer firefighting is a mix between a hobby and a job; it’s become my passion.”

Since 2002 Washington has had nearly 15,000 wildfires. More than 1.7 million acres have been devastated by wildfires making Washington one of the worst states for wildfires in the western United States, according to Fire Science Online.

Because of the rising rate of wildfires, recruitment and retention of firefighters is a top priority for volunteer departments, said Anderson. In recent years, Spokane County Fire District has seen a shift away from traditional volunteers, those who live within the district, and toward those who would like to begin a career in fire service. This shift has challenged the district to create a quality academy while continuing to encourage support and educate their new volunteers.

“Following the recruitment process, volunteers participate in the 12-week West Plains Academy which provides them with the basic skills needed to be effective while not posing a risk to themselves or others,” said Anderson. “We strive to make a friendly and healthy work environment for all our members.”

The training and education conducted through the West Plains Academy arms volunteers with the skills, certifications and experience needed to find a career firefighting position after three to four years of dedicated volunteer service, said Anderson. After graduating the 12-week academy, volunteer firefighters enter the probationary stage of their training and work toward perfecting basic skills.

“It took 23 years for my dream of firefighting to become a reality,” said Staff Sgt. Philip Herrin, 92nd Maintenance Squadron command support staff NCO in charge. “Unfortunately, my dream was put on hold because I lacked a key component to becoming a volunteer firefighter: time.”

For Airmen, balancing the Air Force and their passion for firefighting can be tough. An average volunteer firefighter commitment includes four to six 12-hour shifts per month after completing the academy. Spokane County Fire District’s volunteers are most active during the evenings and weekends due to maintaining full-time jobs during their commitment.

Torres Figueroa has been volunteering for nearly three years and currently holds a lieutenant position with the Spokane County Fire District 10.

“You have to know off the bat you’re going to dedicate a lot of time to helping the local community,” said Torres Figueroa. “Last year, Washington had record wildfires; many times I would go to work and wouldn’t know if I was coming back. You and your family have to be prepared for that.”

Despite it being a volunteer program, volunteers and their families must mentally prepare for the high level of commitment to the fire service and the sacrifices a firefighter makes throughout their career.

Seventy-five percent of the Spokane County Fire District’s force is made up of volunteers. A large portion of first responders choosing to protect and serve outside of their full-time jobs, according to the Spokane County Fire District 10 website.

“You have to be able to handle the stress and the pressure,” said Torres Figueroa. “I conducted CPR for 40 minutes before losing a young man. Then after I slept for a few hours, I had to wake up and teach a lesson to the Honor Guard on properly handling funerals. I deal with death as an Airman and as a firefighter.”

Although the stress can weigh heavy, there is copious amounts of support provided by the firefighters within the Spokane County Fire District.

“Firefighting has been my dream since I was four years old, it means everything to me,” said Senior Airman Killian Campbell, 92nd MXS aircraft metals technology journeyman. “Despite holding a probationary position, the camaraderie in the firehouse is amazing. In the process of becoming a firefighter, I gained a whole new family: my fire house family.”

Campbell attempted to become a tactical air control party specialist and due to injury, was not able to complete his training. Always looking to help others, Campbell began his journey on becoming a volunteer firefighter and recently completed the West Plains Academy.

“Becoming a part of the brotherhood and sisterhood in the district is perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of dedicating time to become a volunteer firefighter,” said Anderson.