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Spangdahlem Firefighters Stay Mission-Ready During Pandemic

May 19, 2020 | BY AIR FORCE SENIOR AIRMAN MELODY HOWLEY

With fire and emergency services holding the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic, the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron Fire and Emergency Services Flight is staying mission-ready by implementing new safety measures to keep members safe while training and responding to calls at a moment's notice.

''We do a complete wipe-down of all high-touch surfaces at a minimum of three times per day,'' said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Ostrom, the flight's chief of operations. ''We wear masks when we cannot maintain the required separation, like while driving and during training events. We have suspended all multicrew training, limited vehicle movements and have changed emergency response procedures to minimize interaction between crews where possible.''

Firefighters stand next to equipment and a large flame.
Flame Tamer
Air Force Staff Sgt. Adrianna Hopkins, a 312th Training Squadron instructor at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, and Air Force Senior Airman Christian Hibner, a firefighter with the 7th Civil Engineer Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, participate in a burn exercise at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, May 11, 2020. Airmen stay mission-ready through the COVID-19 pandemic with consistent training to maintain their ability to respond to an emergency at a moment’s notice.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Melody Howley
VIRIN: 200511-F-VG991-1001

Air Force Master Sgt. Darliska Shaw, the assistant chief of operations, said their crew has broken into separate teams to maintain social distancing as much as possible.

''This has reduced the contact that one firefighter has with other firefighters in case someone did get sick,'' Shaw said. ''We have also worked closely with the other first and emergency responders on base to ensure that we are all on the same page for responses during the increased risk.''

Not only are fire and emergency services taking the necessary steps to ensure the health and safety of their airmen, they are also staying mission-ready by working side by side with the civilian contractors.

''Being an integrated department is a great asset to our base response,'' Ostrom said. ''The reason we have civilian employees in fire protection is to provide continuity, and also provide a fantastic ability to support the local community with our mutual aid agreements. Many of our members are also volunteer firefighters in the local communities and provide much needed technical translation to ensure we are on the same page with tactics, techniques and procedures where miscommunications could prove hazardous.''

Firefighters sanitizing equipment.
Equipment Sanitizer
Air Force Airman 1st Class Nathan Corder, right, a firefighter with the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron Fire and Emergency Services, and Klaus Schmitt, a 52nd CES FES driver operator, sanitize equipment at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, May 14, 2020. The Spangdahlem Fire Department stays mission-ready through the COVID-19 pandemic with multiple sanitation procedures during shifts.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Melody Howley
VIRIN: 200514-F-VG991-1001

Shaw said civilian and military integration is part of their everyday mission.

''Military members bring their experience from different bases and deployments because we tend to move around often,'' Shaw said. ''The civilians bring experience from usually being at a location for an extended time and knowing the base and aircraft very well. The teamwork between our airmen and our host-nation civilians is great.''

Shaw said their biggest challenge during COVID-19 is airmen having to live close to each other while on duty, but they are overcoming this with consistent adjustments to procedures..

''Distancing is difficult in a fire department; it’s like trying to distance yourself in your house from your family members,'' Shaw said. ''It's been a lot of changes in schedule, everyday procedures, and life in the fire station, but the department has adjusted, as we always do.''

Ostrom said he could not be prouder of the airmen during this time.

''The COVID-19 situation has required each of them to alter their standard responses and think of new ways to accomplish the mission,'' Ostrom said. ''We have postured ourselves to provide the maximum protection for each of our individual members to inhibit virus transmission, as well as maintaining the maximum level of mission support to ensure the airfield and our base populace is protected for any emergency situation.''

(Air Force Senior Airman Melody Howley is assigned to the 52nd Fighter Wing.)