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Army Sgt. Heather F. Inkley, a fire team chief with the 179th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting), Massachusetts Army National Guard, fights a fire during a live-burn exercise at the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Training Academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, Dec. 3, 2008. Inkley graduated the academy Dec. 19, 2008. (Courtesy photo)

Members of the 179th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting) and the 180th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting) prevent fuel that was leaking from a vehicle from becoming a fire hazard at an accident on Interstate 90 in Massachusetts, November 9, 2008. (Courtesy photo)

By Army Sgt. James Lally, Massachusetts National Guard Public Affairs 

, Mass. - Leading Soldiers during training exercises is demanding, but motivating them to follow you into a burning building is an extra challenge faced by firefighters in the Massachusetts Army National Guard. 

Consequently, the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s tactical firefighting units have a lot to do during their weekend drills. The 179th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting) and the 180th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting) work together to practice directing rescue and firefighting operations during structural fires, aircraft crash incidents, vehicle emergencies, and forest fires. They also direct emergency response crews during hazardous material incidents and maintain equipment ranging from M1142 fire trucks to M16A2 rifles. The units’ missions range from domestic emergencies to tactical deployments to theatres of operation, such as Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Guard prepares recruits to become Soldiers by sending them to basic training and then advanced individual training for specific jobs. To learn how to be firefighters, the Soldiers of the 179th and 180th attended the 14-week Apprentice Firefighter course held at the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Training Academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas.  

“Upon graduation from the Apprentice Firefighter course, the graduates have the knowledge and skills to perform all aspects of firefighting operations inclusive of aircraft, structural and hazardous materials as well as first responder/first aid skills,” said Sgt. 1st Class Allen Schultz, operations sergeant at the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Training Academy. 

Schultz has been a Soldier for more than 22 years and has served as an Army firefighter, fire department noncommissioned officer, fire instructor and drill sergeant. He is currently the observer controller/trainer for all Army National Guard and Army Reserve firefighting units in the western half of the country.

“Overall, I believe we have the best fire academy in the world. All the armed services come together to produce a highly skilled firefighter ready to step into any fire department in the world and be a very effective crew member,” said Schultz. “The students are challenged both physically and mentally. For most, this will be the most challenging personal and professional goal they accomplish in their life to date. They will complete tasks and challenges they never thought they could accomplish and learn the limits of their endurance in the process of doing so.”

Sgt. Heather F. Inkley, training noncommissioned officer for the 179th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting), graduated the Firefighter Course on Dec., 19, 2008. 

“The school was very demanding both physically and mentally. I was one of the oldest students - one of about 15 females and there was only one other female there that had children. During training, I was able to push myself beyond what I ever believed I could do physically and mentally so I am very proud to have graduated the Firefighter Course,” said Inkley.

In addition to her duties as the 179th’s training noncommissioned officer, Inkley is married and is raising five children while attending the online Columbia School for Fire Science.

“On drill weekends we maintain our proficiency as Soldiers and as firefighters by conducting the firefighter challenge here at Camp Edwards. The challenge is an endurance test consisting of 25 minutes of hard labor condensed into a four-minute exercise. We also perform our Warrior tasks, Army physical fitness training and civilian-equivalent firefighter training,” said Inkley.  

The firefighters of the 179th and the 180th are housed at the Massachusetts Military Reservation Fire Department making things convenient for Sgt. Dennis J. Ragazzini, lead firefighter, 179th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting). Ragazzini is also a lieutenant and full-time firefighter with the Massachusetts Military Reservation Fire Department.

“Our mission covers homeland defense, emergencies and [the unit] is prepared to deploy tactically to and out of a forward operating base in a theater of operations such as Iraq or Afghanistan,” said Ragazzini.

These Massachusetts National Guard firefighters are also trained to control accident scenes, look for victims and prevent cars from burning. They ensure safety at the scene, stabilize patients and prepare them for transport. 

These skills were put to the test after some of the members of the 179th and the 180th witnessed a car accident on Interstate 90 while returning to Camp Edwards after a live-burn exercise, November 9, 2008.

“A turkey flew across two lanes and caused a driver to hit her breaks, spin out of control and cause a three-car accident. We checked one patient whose car had hit the guard rail and prepared her for transport. We assessed her injuries as non life-threatening; she had been hit by her car’s airbag which can cause serious to minor injuries,” Ragazzini said. “It was difficult for the Soldier driving behind the car to stop with a truck full of water traveling at 50 miles per hour; fortunately the driver was able to stop without being involved in the accident. Firefighters are trained to operate fire trucks safely during a driver training and emergency vehicle operations course.”

To ensure safety at the accident scene, the firefighters made sure the vehicles would not cause further damage by rolling and disconnected all of the vehicles’ batteries to prevent shock or fires from damaged equipment.  

“For a young unit starting out they have done a great job,” said Ragazzini.