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Air National Guard fire department answers calls outside gate

Baltimore -- A call comes in. A freight train has derailed in a neighborhood right outside Baltimore, it is on fire and black smoke can be seen for miles spreading across the city. More details are unknown at this point, but one thing is for sure, help is needed to control the blaze.


Members of the Maryland Air National Guard's 175th Fire and Emergency Services with the Martin State Airport Crash Fire Rescue Station at Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River, Md., answered that call May 28, along with first responders from across the county.


These firefighters were ready within a moment's notice and did their part to help suppress the towering fire, explained Senior Master Sgt. Wayne Viands, 175th Fire and Emergency Services fire chief.


The firefighters were ready to risk their own lives in order to keep the surrounding community safe, and this wasn't the first time they've responded to emergencies taking place outside their gate.


"We have a good working relationship with the Baltimore County Fire Department, as well as the surrounding volunteer departments, and we respond to provide support to them whenever called to do so," said Viands. "Not long ago, we were called to a truck accident in the community, and using the 'jaws of life,' extricated the driver who was trapped inside."


This relationship is due to a mutual aid agreement with Baltimore County, which allows them to request help during times of crisis, said Staff Sgt. Michael Dowling, a lieutenant with the fire station. The Martin State Airport Crash Fire Rescue Station's jurisdiction includes the Warfield Air National Guard Base, as well as Martin State Airport, but if the county calls, these firefighters are ready to respond.


Additional incidents that the fire department members have responded to in the local community include other vehicle crashes and fires, as well as medical calls at Martin State Airport and even a carbon monoxide leak. Not all the requests for support are emergencies, though. They have also participated in parades in the local area with their fire trucks, explained Dowling.


He added that this relationship with the local authorities has been building for some time now, and the surrounding agencies are beginning to understand the capabilities that the Air National Guard members can bring to an incident, such as vehicles that can go through difficult terrain and highly trained personnel.


"This department has grown a lot in three years. It's expanded," said Dowling. "The past couple years, we've been communicating better, and that's why we've been getting more calls off-base."


While the fire department may be answering more calls in the surrounding communities, they also work to protect their fellow service members and respond to emergencies on-base on a regular basis. These incidents have mostly been medical calls and have ranged from heat and cold injuries, to falls and cuts, explained Dowling.


Additionally, the members of the 175th Fire and Emergency Services also fulfill their obligation to their country and are prepared to deploy in support of ongoing wartime contingencies, as well as natural disasters, said Viands. More than 10 firefighters recently deployed overseas, and in the past, firefighters supported Hurricane Katrina, to assist with humanitarian relief. They also remain current in their training to perform search and rescue operations in areas affected by natural and manmade disasters such as tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes or terrorist events.


All of the members of the fire department are required to be part of the Maryland Air National Guard and fulfill their one-weekend-a-month obligation to the military, but full-time members serve as civilians working as state employees.


"You don't have to be a firefighter in the military to be a part of the fire department, you just have to be a member of the Maryland Air National Guard," explained Dowling, who works with the emergency management office here on military training weekends.


No matter what unit the firefighters work in for the military, if they want to be able to serve as a firefighter, even in a civilian capacity, they still have to be able to pass the training.


"Once they are a member of the Maryland National Guard, they will be sent to the Louis F. Garland [Department of Defense] Fire Academy at Goodfellow, Air Force Base for 14 weeks to receive very rigorous and physically demanding firefighting training," said Viands.


These firefighters are trained and ready to engage in fire suppression, rescue and other emergency or humanitarian operations when called upon to do so by the Maryland National Guard, the state of Maryland and the United States of America, added Viands.


The firefighters provide this support on and off base out of a state-of-the-art facility that was officially opened during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 19, 2012. The previous station was more than 40 years old with cracks in the walls, a leaking roof, lack of adequate training and office space and was too small to house all of the fire trucks and additional equipment. The new fire station is capable of housing eight pieces of firefighting equipment, has a 40-person classroom, a high-tech dispatch center and 21,000 square feet of space for the firefighters.


"This new facility is incredible, especially when compared to the small, outdated facility that these [service members] were operating out of a short time ago," said Viands. "It has provided the department with the needed space and tools to more effectively and efficiently do their job."


One thing is for sure, if there is an emergency in the local community, members of the Martin State Airport Crash Fire Rescue Station are always ready for the call.