VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. --
After 40 years of continuous service to the United States, Vandenberg Space Force Base fire chief Mark Farias has finally decided to hang up his boots and call it a career.
“I’ve been in the fire service 40 years, and have held just about every job in the firefighting business,” he said. “As much as I didn’t want to do some of these jobs, they truly prepared me for the position of fire chief.”
Emigrating from Germany at a young age, Farias and his family moved into a then-rough neighborhood called Somerville in Massachusetts. He didn’t know a single word of English, but he managed to learn to read and write through reading comic books, thus instilling inner motivation that would carry him through his career.
Farias became the Vandenberg fire chief in January of 2000, and hasn’t looked back since. Throughout Farias’ career as chief, he’s led his team in supporting 273 space launch and missile launch operations.
Farias takes pride in being part of the only fire department in the Department of Defense that responds to land, sea, air and space related emergencies, along with being the lone department to house a “Hot Shot” team, which contains individuals who are considered to be the most skilled, trained, and experienced firefighters in the DOD. Along with that, the Vandenberg Fire Department was the first fire department in the Air Force to be internationally accredited through the Commission for Fire Accreditation International. They’ve also been the first to develop a Rookie Firefighter and Fire Officer Development program, which is now standard across the Air Force.
Moreover, Farias leans heavily into the culture of Vandenberg Fire.
“Our secret sauce has always been our culture,” he said. “Whether it’s the big things or the little things, our folks attack with a vengeance. It’s personal because their badge stands behind it, because their names sign every check they write and because their reputation is on the line with every action they take.”
There is a set of 10 commandments that the department abides by in order to maintain the culture of excellence that they strive for every day. Because of this culture, the Vandenberg Fire Department has become the most awarded Fire and Emergency Services agency in the DOD, accruing a total of 114 command and service level Fire and Emergency Service awards.
Farias sang high praise of the people he watches over and supervises on a daily basis.
“I lead 116 of the world’s finest and most award winning, fire-breathing, game-changing heroes as they serve our nation at home and abroad by responding to chaos and saving lives.”
Farias’ role as fire chief is to drive the choreography required at the executive level to ensure that the fire department’s mission is successful, and it’s his job to ensure their enduring effectiveness and capabilities. The welfare of the people and their families are also a top priority.
Additionally, Farias’ leadership style involves surrounding himself with people who he believes are smarter and more talented than him.
“I empower them to own it, be bold, innovate and dominate,” he said. “Always build the bench with new talent. Reward excellence and decisively engage poor performance.”
Further, Farias has fallen in love with defining and hitting the targets.
“I thoroughly enjoy driving the organizational transparency and health required to ensure the success of the whole,” he said. “Proving the whole can achieve amazing things from its greater parts. In this industry I feel I’m making something larger and more important than myself. Setting new destination points, raising the performance bar, and redefining what we do and how we do it.”
Life as a fire chief is most certainly not easy, and Farias’ proudest moment as chief didn’t come in a moment of triumph, but a moment of solidarity and community through times of crisis and loss.
“When our Explosive Ordinance Disposal troop SrA Dan Johnson lost his life during a combat tour, the whole wing was lined up outside their buildings and along the roadways to honor the procession of transporting his remains from the flight line to off-base. During these periods, all our folks are working with absolute clarity to accomplish what needs to get done.”
Following four decades of service, Farias will retire on Jan. 31, 2022.
“I find balance with my private personal relationships, making music, writing, reading, traveling, and living a life I would be envious of,” he said. “Endings are always a bit sad, but sunsets are proof that endings can be beautiful.”