Military firefighters assigned to Maxwell first time in 11 years

Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. -- The first of 13 newly assigned firefighting Airmen arrived here May 11.

Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Brown reported for work at the Maxwell-Gunter Fire Emergency Services last week. The Detroit native represents the first of 13 Airmen arriving over the summer who will be filling vacant civilian positions that were recently converted to active-duty slots.

Until 2001, the fire department was manned at 60/40 active duty to civilian ratio after the Air Force converted some military base civil engineer positions to civilians, freeing blue suitors to support overseas contingency operations. By 2002, the Maxwell fire department was the first of four fire departments in Air Education and Training Command manned exclusively by civilians.

"Being civilianized works well, but it comes with challenges," stated Fire Chief Lee Anderson. "The difference was felt originally when the 84 staffed positions were reduced to 74 by PBD-720, however there are other hurtles that come from turnover of civilians versus military."

The 40-year-fireman explained some of the department's civilians over the years have been people simply looking for a job, and some leave the position when a job in their hometown opens. This turnover at times left the department with manning gaps, sometimes up to six months while waiting on a new hire.

"The stability of the new active-duty positions will be the biggest benefit provided to our staff," said Anderson.

In addition to the process of converting the 13 vacant civilian positions to military, a team worked through the deliberate process of determining what ranks would be required to ensure the department was staffed properly. Airman Brown will be joined at the fire department by a senior noncommissioned officer, three NCOs and eight Airmen.

"Part of the work is not just getting positions, but getting the correct ranks to fill those positions," said Anderson. "The SNCO and the NCOs will help keep our military personnel military. We haven't had blue suitors here in 11 years so there is an entire new set of appointments and things they need to do like FTAC [First Term Airman Center] and Career Development Courses," he said.

To Airmen Brown, the assignment to Maxwell came as a surprise, but he has taken the new base in stride.

"It hit me off guard. Maxwell wasn't open to us when we filled out our assignment preferences, but I put a lot of Florida bases because I wanted to travel and have family on the Mississippi Coast," said Brown. "I was shocked to hear I would be the first active-duty firefighter here in 11 years, but thanks to my sponsor I am ready to get to work."

Jeremy Kirk, a 15-year-fireman and prior Air National Guardsman, is charged with getting Airmen Brown settled in the duty section. According to Kirk, he is excited about the new additions.

"I am excited about Brown's arrival," Kirk said. "When the fire department converted to 100 percent civilian positions, there was a lot of opportunity for a young civilian population to get their foot in the GS [Government Service] door. Unfortunately, many people would move quickly for different assignments or promotion opportunities, which left the department waiting for those positions to be filled. Although the active duty have deployments and appointments civilians don't, once they are here you can count on them being here for their entire assignment, and when they leave you can count on a replacement."

The Maxwell-Gunter Fire Emergency Services is the first department in AETC to get these positions converted, and they expect the arrival of the other Airmen later this summer.