NEWS | Feb. 15, 2012

Extinguish … save … salvage

By Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Hudson Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Fighting fires and saving lives is a calling for thousands of men and women worldwide who don the uniform of a firefighter. Here at Joint Base Charleston - Weapons Station, members of the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron/Civil Engineer Fire, live that calling everyday with one goal in mind: extinguish, save and salvage.

Whether it is salvaging a home, resuscitating a person in cardiac arrest or conducting community fairs to raise fire prevention awareness, JB Charleston firefighters are on station everyday protecting the property and lives of Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers, Marines and their families.

"This is what we do, what we are meant to do - fight fires, save lives and protect the community as a whole," said William Belida, JB Charleston - Weapons Station district chief. "Some people just know if this job is for them. It takes a special breed of a person to handle the stresses that come with this job because it can get tough."

Nick Servon, a firefighter who works at JB Charleston - Weapons Station, began pursuing his childhood dream when he was only 15 years-old and started volunteering at local fire departments. After graduating from fire fighting school at age 17, Servon was ready to become a fire fighter, but there was still some doubt in the back of his mind as to whether he was cut out for the job.

"As a firefighter you don't know if you are going to be a firefighter for life until you actually go into your first fire," he said. "The first fire I responded to was a house with 15-foot flames shooting out of the windows of the second floor. All I could feel at the time was fear when I saw the flames. To this day, I don't know one firefighter who still does not get a case of the nerves before entering a fire.

"On that day I pushed through my fear and fought the fire. Once the fire was out everyone started to cheer, slap me on the back and congratulate me for putting out my first fire," Servon continued. "That was it for me, the sense of belonging to another family and brotherhood. I came out that day smiling from ear to ear and I knew right at that moment, I was meant to fight fires - it was in my blood."

From helping a partner cope with a difficult fire or accident scene to cooking a meal for the crew, the JB Charleston - Weapons Station 628th firefighters are bonded as a family, helping and assisting each other as well as protecting those who defend America.

"I couldn't ask for a better job," said Firefighter Glen Pilger. "Part of our job is to make sure individuals out there know how to keep themselves safe and we do that by holding events to help raise awareness.

"If there is a call we are always on scene. On days that we don't get a call, well that is a good day. That means we don't have to go out and try to salvage someone's home from being burned to the ground or rescue someone from a car accident." Pilger said. "We look forward to the days we don't get calls because that means everyone is being safe and that makes everyone happy."

The 628th firefighters working at JB Charleston-Weapons Station are on the clock an average of 144 hours every two weeks. Many spend holidays at the fire station since emergencies don't take days off.

"This is our lifestyle ... our way of life," said Firefighter Glen McLendon. "We love what we do no matter the hours, no matter the day it falls on. And even though we preach prevention, we can't always keep a fire or accident from happening. If we can improve someone's life, even just a little by saving a family photo album from a fire, it makes our day."

"Being a firefighter can be tough," Belida said. "Seeing a family lose a loved one or everything they owned in a home fire, or witnessing a victim of a car accident take their last breath as you try to revive them, those things stick with us and are never forgotten. But that doesn't hinder us at our jobs; if anything, it makes us stronger and work harder for the next person or home."