Members of the Fort Jackson Fire Department, named the 2018 IMCOM Fire Department of the Year, small category, pose in front of two of their fire engines. Since the department won the garrison-wide competition in its division, the installation will be in the running for at-large Army recognition. (Photo Credit: Ms. Elyssa Vondra (Jackson)

By Ms. Elyssa Vondra (Jackson)March 21, 2019

Fort Jackson's Fire Department was named the 2018 IMCOM Fire Department of the Year in the small category, putting it in the running for the at-large Army award.

A reduction of fires and increased involvement on and off-post have been highlights of the department's year.

"It's nice to bring to limelight the good things people do every day," said Peter Hines, assistant fire chief.

The installation won a 2015 Army wide Fire Department of the Year award, and this is its first time entering the competition since then.

"This has been a very special year," said fire chief Eric Harper. "We've seen a lot of cooperation from the Soldiers in executing safety in their daily lives."

The number of fires has gone down "tremendously" on-post, as have resulting damages, Harper said. He chalked that up to heightened reaction times to extinguish flames and notify authorities.

During 2018, there were five fires on-post with limited losses of up to $1,300 each. Fire inspector Kenny Morgan called their extent "miniscule."

Also making it a standout year was the installation's extension of its partnership with the City of Columbia, Hines said.

The department assisted in 71 mutual aid fires and responded to 63 highway traffic collisions.

Members helped teach two City of Columbia fire recruiter classes to train future firefighters.

"The community of Fort Jackson isn't just within the gates," so it was an "easy sell" to amp up services to the surrounding areas, Hines said.

The department partners with Columbia Fire Department for training purposes, holding joint sessions several times each month and doing annual live fire training together.

The city has a site where Fort Jackson employees learn how to safely enter and extinguish a burning building using controlled live fires. The installation hosts Columbia's firefighters for flashover
training, teaching them how to react when flames cause a sudden ignition during a fire, Harper said.

They collaborate on the Initiative Blue Card Incident Command Certification Program on providing guidance and leadership in a fire situation, Harper added.

The fire department has also been active on-post, with the crew trying to "jump in everything that we can," Morgan said.

They have teamed up with American Red Cross to host community blood drives and have partnered with the Directorate of Public Works to clean up illegal dump sites, recycling 20 cubic yards of metal and removing 40 cubic yards of trash, along with 13 tires.

Fire department members help run the Fort Jackson Scouts. Fire inspector William Sexton is Cub Master for Pack 89.

They work with military police in "Operation Senior Watch" to check up on senior citizens living on-post "to make sure that they're ok," Harper said.

Members of the fire department are "very passionate about what they do," Morgan said, and they don't do the work for recognition's sake.

"(Winning) just highlights the drive toward excellence that Fort Jackson works very, very hard to carry out every day," Harper said. "We perform excellently every day, and this is just somebody external to Jackson recognizing (that)."

Since Fort Jackson's fire department earned the IMCOM award against garrison-wide competitors with three or fewer fire engines, it was entered for at-large Army recognition.

While the winner has already been selected, it is yet to be announced, Harper said. The Army wide winner will be eligible to win the Department of Defense level award.