The Wisconsin National Guard supports our nation’s federal mission overseas as well as domestic emergencies in Wisconsin and — as seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence — across the nation.
Count fire prevention among the services the Wisconsin National Guard provides — specifically, the Wisconsin Air National Guard, which boasts three fire departments, of which two are accredited by the Center for Public Safety Excellence. Only one other Air National Guard fire department nationwide has such an accreditation.
The 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee and the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison, Wisconsin have that accreditation, operating Fire and Rescue stations at their respective Air National Guard bases to provide continuous emergency support to airport customers at Mitchell Field International Airport and Dane County Regional Airport, as well as mutual-aid support to fire departments in surrounding communities. Volk Field Air National Guard base near Camp Douglas, Wisconsin, also operates a fire department, but that department is not staffed by Wisconsin Air National Guard members.
“The [Wisconsin] Air National Guard Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Department provides highly specialized, certified fire and emergency services,” said Kim Jones, interim airport director at Dane County Regional Airport. “This partnership ensures that well-trained professionals are available 24 hours a day for safe and efficient operations at our airport.”
“We protect enduring installations, people, resources and the environment through world-class fire prevention and community-based full-spectrum emergency response to enable the Warfighter mission,” said Joshua Loescher, fire emergency services chief at Truax Field in Madison. “We are a true total-force organization — we have employees from both the state and federal government, as well as a 27-person drill-status Guardsmen flight, all under one roof.”
John Charlier, deputy fire chief at the 128th Air Refueling Wing, said the Air Force mandates up to 16 classes per month for his department. In addition, his department trains with local fire departments to be prepared for a multitude of situations.
“It is the nature of our intense training program to assure our personnel are equipped and ready for whatever gets thrown our way,” Charlier said, “whether structural or aircraft related.”
“By joining forces with the city of Cudahy, we are able to have our firefighters get exposed to emergency situations and have patient contacts that might not otherwise be seen on our installation,” added Senior Master Sgt. David MacCudden, fire chief for the Wisconsin Air National Guard firefighters at the 128th Air Refueling Wing. “This program also highlights the strengths and benefits of community involvement and participation.”
The Truax Fire and Rescue Station, which completed a $6 million renovation in 2011, operates around the clock. Loescher said department members spend about one-third of their time at the station.
“Whereas most buildings on Truax Field Air National Guard Base function only as work places, ours functions as a work place and as a home for our folks,” he said.
The same is true in Milwaukee, Charlier said.
“The fire station is our home away from home,” he said. “We spend hours a day with each other, eating together and spending holidays with each other.
“They call the fire service a ‘brotherhood’ for a reason,” Charlier continued. “We are willing to put our lives on the line to protect each other, just like you would for your own brother or sister.”
The Truax station also has a mutual-aid agreement with at least a dozen area fire departments. Last year, Truax station responded to 407 incidents, and 383 so far in 2018.
Every Dec. 10 is a somber reminder for the 128th Air Refueling Wing of the vital importance of their job. On that date in 1993, a KC-135 Stratotanker — tail number 1470 — exploded when a pump sparked, igniting fumes in a fuel cell of the aircraft. Six 128th Air Refueling Wing Airmen perished that day — a day Charlier said will never be forgotten.
“Most firefighters will never experience an emergency of that magnitude,” he said. “Unfortunately for our crews, this one came with a disastrous cost. Our constant training is conducted in preparation for real-world experiences such as the explosion of 1470.”
Master Sgt. Kellen Kroening contributed to this report