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More than Courage: Enlisted Firefighters

In addition to great courage, enlisted firefighters apply advanced technical knowledge and skill to protect people and property.

US Air Force firefighters protect people, property, and the environment from fires and other disasters. Operating on Air Force bases in diverse locations all over the world, they face unique dangers and environmental challenges.

Structural fires and crash rescue fires are only part of the job—Air Force firefighters also respond to medical emergencies, wildfires, and other man-made and natural disasters. From burning rocket fuel to ice rescues, they must know how to respond to a variety of hazards.

It’s easy to recognize that it takes an immense amount of courage to run toward a blazing fire. Less recognizable, however, is the amount of technical knowledge and skill required to apply the right techniques. As aircraft and firefighting equipment grew more sophisticated after World War II, the knowledge and training demanded of enlisted firefighters also increased. Rather than relying primarily on strength and endurance, firefighters spent more time studying chemistry, physics, mathematics, and construction.

Combined with training on equipment and procedures, background knowledge in math and science helps firefighters predict and eliminate the spread of fire. Familiarity with fuel characteristics, aircraft construction, and the proper volume of extinguishing agents enables firefighters to work quickly and efficiently. 

Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting

While speed is paramount in both structural and aircraft fires, it is perhaps more important in Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF). Typically, USAF firefighters have one minute to receive a call, one minute to gear up, and four minutes to arrive on scene. However, on a flight line, crews only have one minute to reach the aircraft. 124044

Once on scene, firefighters must evaluate possible hazards like missiles, bombs, radiation, hydraulic fluid, and liquid oxygen. Knowledge of aircraft construction helps firefighters locate access points, ventilate the fire, and avoid cutting pressure lines. Certain aircraft metals burn rapidly—in some cases the fuselage may only withstand the effects of fire for seventeen seconds. Knowledge of these potential dangers helps firefighters assess risk and respond safely.

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