Volunteer firefighters from a volunteer force

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Keith Holcomb
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
A large smoke cloud billows up from a cabin in West Virginia, it was a backdraft situation. The grandfather told his grandson about the fire as trucks pulled up to help tame the flames.

The grandson, now Staff Sgt. Joshua Kenney, 14th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, recalls the afternoon being the moment he knew he wanted to become a first responder and firefighter.

Kenney isn’t the only Airman who wanted to help the communities he’s lived in, Tech. Sgt. Eric Lannon, 14th Contracting Squadron contracting officer; Senior Airman Ryan Younger, 14th Security Forces Squadron patrolman; and Senior Airman Dylan Fivecoate, 14th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, have all volunteered their free time to being a volunteer firefighter in Columbus, Mississippi’s local area.

After raising their right hands to serve as an Airmen in the U.S. Air Force, they are all now assigned to the 14th Flying Training Wing, where each of them then chose to raise their hand again, this time to protect the surrounding community as a volunteer firefighter.

“When you’re a full time firefighter you actually don’t get thanked as much as arriving to a call as a volunteer firefighter,” Kenney said. “People know when it’s your job you’re sitting at work waiting for the call, whereas a volunteer could be mowing their grass or grabbing groceries upon receiving an emergency call.”

Being a volunteer firefighter also has a much different process from volunteering for another organization. Individuals must be voted into the volunteer firefighter community by community firefighters leadership based on their drive, grit and critical thinking skills.

“My father used to take me to calls when I was a kid,” Younger said. “I eventually started helping out here and there and became a volunteer firefighter at 16 years old.”

Younger later joined the Air Force as a security forces Airmen, and upon arriving to the 14th FTW, found out there was a volunteer firefighting force. He approached the local Fire Station 1, beginning the process to become a part of the volunteer team.

“I’ve been a volunteer firefighter since I was 13,” Lannon said. He explained as he is close to retiring from the Air Force, Columbus was one of the few bases with this opportunity for its Airmen.

Lannon also mentioned having the first responders from the 14th FTW gives a lot of great training to the community and other volunteer firefighters like himself who have never been a first responder professionally.

“Through the Air Force I’ve gotten the call volume, the training, the certifications, the on the job experience,” Kenney said. “I like doing both because I can use my career knowledge to help a community who doesn’t have the in depth experiences and training as the military fire training.”

Much of their time on firefighting calls comes outside of their ‘standard’ duty hours. Their passion of leaping into danger to help others in a time of need truly exposes their ability to live as warrior Airmen in and out of uniform.

Fivecoate recently won the 2019 Air Force Sergeants Association Pitsenbarger Award for his heroic efforts during a volunteer fire call. He like any other volunteer firefighter, simply did what he loves to do, but those actions spoke louder than words and earned him an award for his courageous response to a major automobile accident scene.

“If you are interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter you need to start talking with your supervisors. There is a part-time job form and hazardous duty form you’ll complete, but then you can start talking to your district’s fire station,” Younger said. “The support from the military volunteer firefighters is great and the community is a close community for new Airmen.”

All four Airmen unanimously agreed being a volunteer firefighter takes a determined individual and isn’t for the faint of heart. They encourage anyone who is interested to find out more and talk to current local volunteer firefighters to see if it’s a team they’d like to be a part of.