Fire Wire: Eielson AFB Fire Department, military firefighters who do it all

Published: Sep. 11, 2020 at 4:08 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Walk into the Eielson Air Force Base (AFB) Fire Department and you will be greeted by people in full military uniforms, but these are the firefighters. The Eielson department is the only fire department in the Fairbanks area that is staffed exclusively by active duty military. They are also the only department in Fairbanks that does both structural firefighting and aircraft firefighting.

“If you look at Eielson as a city, it basically is a city. It is a self-contained little city and we are the fire department that provides the services,” said Scottie Ruester, an assistant chief of operations at the Eielson Fire Department. This means that their firefighters are tasked with taking care of everything on base from buildings to airplanes. They also provide EMS, hazmat and rescue services to the base.

Most of the firefighters who staff the department are active duty airman. “The Air Force is the last DOD (Department of Defense) component left to maintain an actual career field for firefighting," Ruester said, adding that other than their uniforms and ability to be deployed, they are the same as any other firefighters.

While their primary mission is to support and protect the airbase, they also have mutual aid agreements with nearby departments that allow them to work on a variety of different situations. Ruester says this, “has helped open [our firefighters'] eyes to actual firefighting, whereas some installations may not have a local community near them, they may not have mutual aid, so they may not be able to be exposed to those types of structure fires.”

Many of the firefighters who come to Eielson are new to the job. Aaron Knoll has been a firefighter for less than a year and was recently stationed in Fairbanks. He says the training he is getting will help him, and not just in the military.

“I feel like this has really prepared me for civilian firefighting as well, and I feel like the skills are really transferable,” Knoll said.

One of the challenges of with running a department with primarily military members is that every three years they are assigned a new duty station. To combat this, Eielson’s chief and some of the other leaders in the department are civilians who are able to build relationships with the community. Ruester said, “They are our longevity, they are our continuity, they are here to help guide and mentor our younger kids and heck, even myself [and] the older guys.”

While many of the firefighters don’t look traditional, and their job is more broad, the men and women who work at the Eielson AFB Fire Department are able to provide a service to the base and the greater Fairbanks North Star Borough.

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