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Fire Dozers: facing danger

Senior Airmen Ronald Skala and Thomas Williams, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operators, stand in front of a fire dozer, Sept. 21, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The fire dozer team is on stand-by during every launch, prepared to contain fires that start and prevent damage to base assets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford/Released)

Senior Airmen Ronald Skala and Thomas Williams, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operators, stand in front of a fire dozer, Sept. 21, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The fire dozer team is on stand-by during every launch, prepared to contain fires that start and prevent damage to base assets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford/Released)

Senior Airman Ronald Skala, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operator, demonstrates the use of a Fire Shelter, Sept. 21, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Constructed of aluminum foil, silica and fiberglass, a fire shelter is designed to protect the individual from smoke, heat and flames. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford/Released)

Senior Airman Ronald Skala, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operator, demonstrates the use of a Fire Shelter, Sept. 21, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Constructed of aluminum foil, silica and fiberglass, a fire shelter is designed to protect the individual from smoke, heat and flames. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford/Released)

Senior Airman Ronald Skala, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operator, demonstrates the use of a Fire Shelter, Sept. 21, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Constructed of aluminum foil, silica and fiberglass, a fire shelter is designed to protect the individual from smoke, heat and flames. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford/Released)

Senior Airman Ronald Skala, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operator, demonstrates the use of a Fire Shelter, Sept. 21, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Constructed of aluminum foil, silica and fiberglass, a fire shelter is designed to protect the individual from smoke, heat and flames. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford/Released)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- With more than 130 different career fields ranging from pilots to plumbers, every job in the Air Force plays a crucial role in mission success.

One vital contributor to mission success is the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operators' fire dozer team, who embrace the unique challenge of fire prevention.

The fire dozer team consists of approximately ten Airmen and civilian volunteers. Their job is to support the firefighters by helping to limit damage and contain the spread of wildfires.

"The fire department will go around and make a two foot path with shovels," said Staff Sgt. Mark Robertson, 30th CES heavy equipment operator. Then we will come through with our dozer over the same area, but we can make an eight-foot-wide fire break with a dozer. It provides a better barrier to contain the fire."

A fire break is a man-made line in the dirt created to clear all brush and debris that would fuel a fire. This keeps the fire in a contained area, preventing it from spreading to other areas and minimizing the damage to property.

"Because of the sheer size of our equipment we can accomplish a lot within seconds," said Robertson. "When we go out to a fire, those who have already responded breathe a sigh of relief because we can accomplish a huge amount of work in a short amount of time."

The fire dozers remain on stand-by for two weeks at a time during fire season, which usually lasts about six months out of the year.

"The last three years we haven't gone out of fire season because of the draught," said Robertson. "We are always on alert."

When a fire breaks out, the base firefighters are the first to respond. When the fire is too difficult to control, the fire dozer team is called to assist.

"We are supporting the fire department, and will get their call if they need us," said Raymond Boothe, 30th CES equipment supervisor. "We are not sitting around waiting for a call though -- we are constantly working all over base, performing our job as heavy equipment operators."

Responding to wildfires throughout California can be a job full of hazards. Some of which include; terrain, visibility, unexploded ordinances and wildfire flames.

The fire dozer team remains prepared by keeping safety equipment up to date. The team wears a fire resistant uniform, helmet and gloves and carries a fire shelter on their person while on duty. A fire shelter is a safety device used while trapped by a wildfire. Constructed of aluminum foil, silica and fiberglass, this device is designed to protect the individual from smoke, heat and flames.

"A fire shelter is probably one of the most important things that we carry with us," said Robertson.

Even with all of the possible dangers of the job, there is no lack of volunteers due to the opportunities the program offers.

"Vandenberg is the only base in the Air Force that has a fire dozer team," said Robertson. "So this is the only place in our career that we are going to get this kind of experience and training."

Airmen also receive a Red Card certification, which states the holder has the experience and training necessary to fight wildfires. This certification is utilized by both state and federal fire agencies and is useful for civilian jobs across the nation.

Another significant component of the job is supporting the space mission. The fire dozer team is on stand-by during every launch, prepared to contain fires that start and prevent damage to base assets.

"There have been times when, if our fire break hadn't been there, the fire would have kept destroying everything in its path," said Robertson. "Our job is extremely important to the mission and to the community."