A band of brothers

A 374th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter helmet sits on a fire truck at Yokota Air Base, Japan, May 7, 2020. All firefighters have their names written on the helmet to help identify them while in their gear. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)
A 374th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter helmet sits on a fire truck at Yokota Air Base, Japan, May 7, 2020. All firefighters have their names written on the helmet to help identify them while in their gear. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

A band of brothers

by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing
374th Airlift Wing

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- The distinctive howl of a firetruck siren erupts, and suddenly, nightfall is ignited with pulsating flashes of red and blue. It arrives on scene and the brave Airmen inside leap into action, ready to handle whatever comes their way. They tackle fire and save lives like a well-oiled machine.

Once the job is done, the firefighters clean-up the scene and head back home. Not to their dorms or houses, but the one they share together--the fire station.

For the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department, the team is not merely a unit, but a family.

“Our relationship together goes beyond just work,” said Airman Gavin Mason, 374th CES firefighter. “We live together for half our lives, so we are quick to understand each other. We know everything about each other’s personal lives because who else is there to talk to when you’re on shift for 24 hours?”

Where most careers have shifts that are 8 or 12 hours long, these firefighters work and live alongside each other for 24 hours every shift. Sleeping, eating, studying and working-out are all done at the station with their fellow firefighters.

Looking back at all that time spent together, Mason shakes his head as he laughs about some of the funny situations that happened around the fire house.

“There was an emergency call while some people were in the shower,” Mason recalled. “They ran out butt-naked, dried themselves and geared up quickly to make it there in time.”

The stories and comradery among those inside the fire station help create a close-knit environment.

“You know you can trust anyone here, whether you are in trouble in a fire or just need encouragement and support,” said Staff Sgt. Hector Guemarez Colon, 374th CES crew chief and firefighter. “We have the big brothers who want to take care of you and the little brothers who want to tease you. Having that type of brotherhood is amazing. It definitely feels like a family, everyone cares about everybody and we help each other grow.

“We are going to give our best for one another no matter the condition.”

While most days are packed with training as well as fun, there are times when these firefighters are called for incidents that are emotionally hard to respond to.

“I received a call once where we arrived on-scene and it was an infant,” said Guemarez Colon. “We performed CPR, but unfortunately they were not responding. When we got to the hospital, they declared that the child was gone.

“It was an extremely heartbreaking situation to get through, but having the comradery allowed us to talk about it openly. We were sincere to one another which helped us be able to handle it and move forward.”

According to Mason, the team is very involved in each other’s lives. They are always looking out for one another and frequently act to bond as a family.

“We are never quick to put each other down,” said Mason. “If someone is having a bad day, we are there to talk it out with them and make sure they are okay.

“We will throw birthday parties, play video games together online, exercise or simply go out together to help ease the tension of work because it can get stressful.”

Off days are no exception for this band of firefighters, where they can be seen together still, whether it’s roaming the streets of Japan or a quick scrimmage in an open field.

“Once, we started a frisbee game that quickly changed,” said Mason. “It went into a 100-yard sprint before completely changing into some form of ‘jujitsu-wrestling-koala-grabbing’ match between everyone.”

The station erupted with laughter from the firefighters at Mason’s story as each friend retold other shared moments.

“It’s such an amazing job and community, because no matter where you are, if you run into another firefighter you will automatically feel a connection.”

Forged by fire, this connection establishes a bond so strong, it spans throughout their lives and careers.

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