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Firefighter Chris Burke

photo courtesy of Justin Boddy/Fort Wainwright Firefighters Association

Firefighter Chris Burke, Fort Wainwright Firefighters Association, has his head shaved to raise donations and create awareness of children with cancer at the Fourth Annual St. Baldrick’s fundraiser March 22, 2008, at Pioneer Park.

Priscilla Hammon
Fort Wainwright PAO

Firefighters may form a bond with their coworkers beyond what many people experience within the workplace

"The job is not Monday through Friday, eight to five. We work a 48-hour shift with the same group of firefighters. We live together, eat together and stay overnight," said Fort Wainwright firefighter and Fort Wainwright Firefighter Association member Justin Boddy. "Most jobs don't have that kind of closeness. I think that is why lots of previous military members become firefighters. They want that family aspect of dedication, loyalty, closeness and brotherhood."

Fort Wainwright firefighters are often found at play with their fellow firefighters off the clock as well.

"Pretty much any holiday is a family event at the fire station, where families come to celebrate together. We have 30 to 40 people in the station on holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving," Boddy said.  "We do a lot of barbecues in the summer; participate in team sports, such as softball or volleyball; and (can be found) hunting and fishing together, of course."

Installation fire departments provide round-the-clock emergency response capability, and firefighters work long hours to cover those shifts.

"Working 48 hours on, 72 off; 48 on, 72 off; and 48 on and 48 off is a two-platoon system the Department of Defense uses for its firefighters," said Chief Russell Toms of the Fort Wainwright Fire Department.

Highly qualified firefighter applicants come from regional fire departments, universities and the military.

"We have great local resources with a number of volunteer fire departments and the University of Alaska Fairbanks fire science program," Toms said. "FWFD is comprised of 82 authorized firefighters, medics, and dispatchers. The department is made up of former military members, career civil servants and local hires from the surrounding area of Fairbanks."

The FWFD also extends its support beyond the Fort Wainwright community.

 "We have a mutual aid support contract in place with local and outlying communities," Toms said.

According to Department of Defense Instruction 6055.6, post firefighters, medics and dispatchers are trained to handle hazardous materials; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive materials; and weapons of mass destruction. Training also includes emergency medical services, aircraft rescue response, wild land fire protection and prevention and natural and man-made catastrophic event response.

Firefighter brotherhood and dedication doesn't end with each other.

"The main point is to be there at the worst moments for our community fires, vehicular accidents, illnesses and injuries," Boddy said.

That community support continues when the firefighters are off the clock as well.

"Firefighters across the country and overseas routinely raise money for various children's charities," Boddy said.

Firefighters have a long history of being deeply connected to one another, their families and their community.

"Most firefighting organizations can participate in these fundraisers without incident, but the Fort Wainwright firefighters are federal employees, and we could not wear our organizational Fort Wainwright firefighter organizational wear on our bodies when volunteering to raise money for kids," Boddy said.

As a result, the firefighters' fundraising is carried out under the auspices of the Fort Wainwright Firefighters Association.

 "Having the association separate from federal employment allows us to act and behave like the community supporters we are, without breaking any federal laws asking the public for donations," Boddy said.

The FWFA sponsors two primary fundraising events annually, through which they raised $56,000 last year.

The association supports the Fill-the-Boot drive for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the St. Baldrick's Foundation, which raises money for children with cancer.

"This is the fifth year we have participated in the upcoming St. Baldrick's event," Boddy said. "Last year, we raised more than $50,000. This year, we are hoping to raise $60,000."

"Each year, we sponsor at least one named local child with cancer for St. Baldrick's," Boddy said, adding the firefighters have their heads shaved to raise donations. "The point is kids with cancer receiving chemo treatments are bald. We raise money with sponsorships that pay the St. Baldrick's organization for us to shave our heads."

The Fort Wainwright firefighters will have their heads shaved as part of the St. Baldrick's fundraiser Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Pioneer Park exhibit hall in Fairbanks. The free event is open to the public.

For more information, visit the www.stbaldricks.org.