| Fort Indiantown Gap | March 25, 2019
Fire Department protects and serves the Fort Indiantown Gap community (Photo by Sgt. Shane Smith)
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – Each year throughout the United States fires kill or injure thousands and destroy billions of dollars in property. But the individuals training, working and living here on post can rest easy knowing that a department of highly capable firefighters is working day and night to ensure the safety of the installation as a whole.
The department provides 24 hour emergency services, seven days a week to Fort Indiantown Gap personnel and property. Utilizing fire vehicles and installed fire protection systems, its firefighters control, neutralize, mitigate, or extinguish any fire or emergency situation that occurs on installation property.
The Fort Indiantown Gap Fire & Emergency Services section provides a much broader range of services to the community than what most may expect. Such services include structural fire protection, aircraft rescue firefighting, wildland emergency fire response, emergency medical services, confined space rescue, operations-level hazardous materials response, a variety of fire prevention services, and rescue services including vehicle extrication and search and water rescue.
Chief Donald Wilson, Fort Indiantown Gap’s fire chief, describes the importance of having an on-post fire department.
“Fort Indiantown Gap is as big as some municipalities. To put it in perspective, the installation has its own water department, sewer department, electric company, phone and cable companies, airport and even private residences,” said Wilson. “It’s also the top National Guard training center in the country, so there’s a lot of throughput here. It’s really its own community.”
The installation also has on-post ammunition storage sites, fuel storage sites and aviation facilities.
“It’s because of factors such as these that there’s required response times that we must meet. For an aircraft-related incident there’s a response time of just three minutes,” explained Wilson. “Incidents such as these that require such rapid responses are one of the main reasons an on-post fire department is so necessary. It wouldn’t be possible to do what’s expected of us without being stationed so nearby, ready to respond when needed.”
In addition to being responsible for the protection of an entire installation, the Fort Indiantown Gap Fire & Emergency Services section also has mutual aid agreements with five surrounding fire stations.
“Currently there’s a statewide crisis in manning for the volunteer fire service,” said Wilson. “Sometimes neighboring fire departments will request our assistance and we’re happy to provide support when possible, and they’ll do the same for us when we have a major incident here and need additional resources.”
In 2018 the department responded to more than 500 service calls, a significant increase from the previous year. Fifty of those calls resulted in responses to actual fires, while approximately 170 were rescue or EMS-related.
“There’s a lot of change coming in the next few years that we’re excited for,” Wilson said. “The National Guard Bureau has reviewed our installation status reports and risk assessments, and determined that we need more equipment to continue to perform our mission successfully. They’ve approved additional equipment for us, so we should be seeing a handful of new vehicles headed our way in the future.”
Currently, the department is utilizing ten vehicles with various capabilities to accomplish its mission. This includes two crash trucks primarily used for aircraft incidents, two fire engines most commonly used for structure fires and automotive accidents, and a brush truck used to respond to wildland and grass fires. Other vehicles at the department’s disposal include a hazardous materials response trailer, two rescue boats used for water rescue operations, and two additional four-wheeled utility vehicles often used for EMS missions and woodland search and rescues.
“But it’s not just the equipment at our disposal, it’s the people making use of that equipment that truly impacts the overall success of our mission,” Wilson stated. “We currently have 15 firefighters on staff, myself excluded. This is the hardest working group of guys I’ve ever worked alongside – they’re truly an incredible team.”
According to Chief Wilson, the state of Pennsylvania has a voluntary firefighter certification program. Of all the fire departments across the commonwealth, less than one percent of those departments have every single one of their firefighters certified.
“This department is part of that one percent, and I’m extremely proud of my team for that,” Wilson boasted with a grin. “They’re an incredible bunch of firefighters and I can honestly say I’d put these guys up against any task and have confidence that they’d get the job done.”
The Fort Indiantown Gap Fire & Emergency Services section is proactive and progressive. The ever-changing and dynamic environment of emergency services presents many complex and demanding challenges to emergency service personnel.
“At the end of the day our job is to provide services that protect the lives of the individuals here at Fort Indiantown Gap,” Wilson stated. “The unique thing about that is it’s not just Soldiers we’re protecting. There’s also Airmen, federal employees, state employees, the general public passing through or visiting the post, veterans, you name it. We strive to give them all the best services possible to protect them from fires, disasters and accidents. We’re really a one stop shop: an all-hazards agency. It’s our job and we love it.”