Student firefighter reflects on training

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Students fight fires for the first time in block four training at the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy.

Block four is a departure from individual training and classroom lessons. They are taught how to work as a team and put their previous training to practical use.

"Our training is mostly outside objectives, and that is the best way to do it, considering actually doing the job will be in the cold or heat," said Master Sgt. Dwayne K. Jackson, 312th Training Squadron instructor. "Our block is the first time almost everything they accomplish has to be done as a team."

One student is especially thankful for the hands-on training.

"This is probably the most extensive fire training I've been in," said Onnie O. McSpadden, 127th Michigan Air National Guard firefighting apprentice. "I was a volunteer firefighter at one point in time, and that worked out pretty well, but to be a part of the Department of Defense makes me pretty proud."

McSpadden is a cross trainee. His last job was an aircraft structural maintainer for the A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog." Before he cross trained he was a car salesman, but now enjoys the idea of giving that up to pursue firefighting as a career.

"I think this is a great change for me," said McSpadden. "It leans over into the civilian side of life, so in case you want to get out early, or retire early, or get out for whatever reason, you have options for work. You really can't beat it."

McSpadden draws comparisons between the technical training schools he's been to, especially on the instructor and trainee dynamic.

"They've dealt with so many personalities that they just know what's going on in your head," said McSpadden. "They genuinely care and want to help you get better and achieve. It's very engaging, because I think they know our lives are on the line. They're not just doing their job, I think they really care."

McSpadden and his classmates graduate on March 4.