After 46 years of service, the Air Force’s top firefighter stepped down.
Donald Warner, chief of the Fire Emergency Services Division in the Air Force Civil Engineer Center Readiness Directorate at Tyndall AFB, Fla., retired Dec. 29, ending a career in firefighting that has spanned six decades.
“When I enlisted in 1965, the Air Force chose the firefighting career field for me,” Warner said. “They did a good job because I have loved it. I can’t think of anything else I would have rather done.”
Over his career, Warner has seen Air Force firefighting evolve and, for the past 11 years as the Air Force Fire Chief, has helped guide many of those changes.
“Our career field has become more technical and our duty responsibilities have expanded tremendously,” Warner explained. “When I came in, we were almost exclusively crash response firefighters. Now, we are an all-hazards response force.”
Warner said the predominant call received by Air Force firefighters today is for emergency medical services response.
“We provide the first level of care typically on Air Force bases and have a lot of success stories,” he said. “Our firefighters save about 30 people per year. I’m very proud of that.”
The most apparent changes in Air Force firefighting have been in technological advances in vehicles and equipment, Warner said. In the past, the Air Force only used firefighting vehicles specified and built for the military.
“They were very basic,” he explained. “We now buy commercial, off-the-shelf equipment. This change was a significant departure from our business practices of the past, but it enables us to keep up with technology and allows our firefighters to be more competitive and better prepared for a career after they leave the Air Force.”
In overseeing Air Force fire department operations and some 10,000 Airmen and civilian firefighters, Warner has faced numerous challenges. Key among these was addressing staffing requirements in the face of budget constraints.
“In fire, we had to dramatically change how we operated and were forced to make some tough decisions on the size of our total force,” he said. Warner and his team at AFCEC and major commands found that varying the number of firefighters on duty was the only means of achieving the manpower savings required, providing more firefighters available during higher risk periods and fewer firefighters at other times.
“We incorporated a risk management approach into our business to make certain our fire chiefs had the appropriate number of personnel according to local risk factors,” he said.
Warner says one of the biggest advancements in vehicle and equipment modernization is the development of ultra-high pressure firefighting technology.
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