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Airmen become Air Force first-ever combat-ready firefighters through TRFOC

Far right, Senior Airman Adam Van Lange and Staff Sgt. Joshua Sweetman, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, graduate along with security forces peers from a Tactical Response Force Orientation Course Oct. 25, 2019, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

Far right, Senior Airman Adam Van Lange and Staff Sgt. Joshua Sweetman, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, graduate along with security forces peers from a Tactical Response Force Orientation Course Oct. 25, 2019, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Van Lange and Sweetman are the U.S. Air Force’s first-ever firefighters to graduate from TRFOC. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Truesdell)

Senior Airman Adam Van Lange and Staff Sgt. Joshua Sweetman, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, center, pose with security forces peers with certification under the base Tactical Response Force Oct. 25, 2019, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

Senior Airman Adam Van Lange and Staff Sgt. Joshua Sweetman, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, center, pose with security forces peers with certification under the base Tactical Response Force Oct. 25, 2019, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. As the first two firefighters to graduate from a TRF Orientation Course, Van Lange and Sweetman are responsible for building operations for the base fire department to properly integrate with TRF operations for real-world incidents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Truesdell)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Two Airmen with the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron fire department graduated from a Tactical Response Force Orientation Course Oct. 25 – becoming the United States Air Force’s first-ever combat-ready firefighters.

Per a new Air Force initiative, the TRF unit under the 341st Security Forces Support Squadron began integrating base firefighters in their TRFOC.

“Something we’ve come to realize through case studying with real-world events is that often times, [security forces] is not medically trained,” said Staff Sgt. Phillip Hopkins, 341st SSPTS NCO in-charge of TRF training. “We’re just there to eliminate the threat.

“[This initiative] is changing the way that we, security forces as a whole, respond to real-world situations,” Hopkins continued. “What they’re looking to do is mitigate the loss of life in these situations – and that’s where they come in.”

Nicknamed the TRF’s new ‘guardian angels’, Staff Sgt. Joshua Sweetman and Senior Airman Adam Van Lange, both members of the base fire department, now have the responsibility to develop operations for the fire department to collaborate with TRF for future real-world and training situations.

“Now that we’re integrating medically-trained personnel in the scene with us, they can immediately start preserving life while the law enforcement side secure the scene,” said Hopkins.

How they were chosen
“The fire department had been discussing a program that would enable some of the emergency medical technicians to respond with law enforcement during emergency situations as combat-ready medics,” said Van Lange.

“At 6 p.m. the night before the course started, I received a phone call from the station saying that a training opportunity with TRF had come up,” he continued. “If I accepted, I would be detached from the fire department starting the next morning.”

The next day, Sweetman and Van Lange, along with other security forces members, began their 21-day TRFOC.

TRFOC and its objectives
“Though each TRFOC is exclusive to its base, ours is the longest of the northern tier,” said Hopkins. “Our mission set is different since we don’t have an active flight line and we have stuff here on base that some others don’t have. Plus we have the largest missile complex.”

“During the course they go through close-quarters combat, rappelling, helicopter operations, small-unit-tactics, individual movement tactics, hostage situations and rescue, recapture-recovery operations, barricaded suspects and active shooter response,” he continued.

To wrap-up the course, members conducted 72-hour sleep deprivation operations.

“Here at TRF, we work a 72-hour on and 72-hour off rotation,” said Hopkins. “For the field training exercise, we put members through the ‘worst tour that could ever happen,’.”

Such a tour would include every exercise the Airmen could be faced with on top of stress inoculation, sleep deprivation and more to determine whether or not the individuals could handle the worst-case scenario possible.

“Sweetman and Van Lange are the first two firefighters who have gone through the course, so they’ll have a lot on their plates,” said Hopkins. “It’s up to them to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Bringing them to TRF shows them how we operate, what we do and how they can integrate the fire department.”

New roles, new responsibilities
Sweetman and Van Lange are now responsible for building operations for the base fire department to properly integrate with TRF operations for training and real-world incidents.

The fire department’s next step is to ensure members are in proper physical condition to work alongside TRF.

“Since this is the fire time in U.S. Air Force history that firemen joined a TRF unit, a lot has yet to be determined on setting solid responsibilities,” said Van Lange.

Although, the fire department’s physical training program has been adjusted to promote physical fitness regardless if members integrate with TRF..

“What we expect is readiness,” said Van Lange. “We never know when an emergency will happen. What we do know is our gear is set up, trucks and equipment are always ready and we are trained to a standard to get the job done.”

For now, Sweetman and Van Lange are working on new schedules, exercises and training and certifying as many firefighters through TRFOC to transition and merge with TRF’s operations.

“Now we’re not only trained in TRF’s weapon systems, but also the way they talk, move and think,” said Van Lange.

“This initiative is calling for more combat-ready medics,” said Van Lange. “Until the Air Force decides to take a different route, we need those men and women who have medical training to provide life-saving treatments on-scene while other responding forces secure the area.”
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