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Vandenberg Fire Department best in DoD

VANDENBERG AIR FORE BASE, Calif. -- Edging past more than 500 fire departments, the Vandenberg Fire Department was named the 2009 Department of Defense medium-unit fire department of the year at the annual DoD Fire and Emergency Services Award Banquet in Chicago, Ill., on Aug. 27

The DoD award for the medium-unit fire department of the year is a competition between all branches of the military and is intended to recognize a unit's heroism, devotion to service and skill.

"The award is very much earned," said Mark Farias, Vandenberg fire chief. "We have a strong desire to consistently improve, and by doing that, we prove that we're the best."

Although humbled about the award, Chief Farias marvels at the accomplishment.

"It's especially hard to win because we don't have aircraft assigned here," he said. "Most Air Force bases have aircraft and their fire departments are recognized for extinguishing aircraft fires. We had to fight extra hard to prove that we're the best, despite our lack of aircraft."

Traditionally most of the Vandenberg Fire Department's experience comes from wildland fires. Until 18 months ago, wildland fires weren't classified as serious fires.

"Being able to convince our peers that we are worthy of an award has been a challenge," said Chief Farias. "Our team has worked tirelessly and I am so proud of them for winning this award."

This award was the fourth since 2003, Vandenberg earned the last award in 2007. Each year the department earns this award, they are not eligible the following year. Since 2003, the department has won the award every year they were eligible.

"Once in a while you get lucky and make it to the top," said Chief Farias. "Luck is great, but it takes skill and dedication to remain on top. If you can beat out 500 departments once in 20 years, that's great, but if you can do it more than once, that's just amazing."

Chief Farias attributes the team's dedication to their ultimate goal: serve, save and survive.

"Other bases have skill and talent too, however, it's all about the heart," said Chief Farias. "I'd compare it to the Olympics; the difference between the gold and silver medal winners is the heart. It's about how bad they want it. We wanted it, and we got it, again."