Ramstein Airman named DOD firefighter of year

Monica Mendoza
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***Sometimes being the best firefighter means putting out the metaphoric fires.
Take Senior Airman Christopher Gerdes, 22, of the 435th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department. Oh, he’s put out his share of real fires on Ramstein and at a base downrange during his recent deployment. But, what made him a standout firefighter – nay, the best – is his work back in the fire station on Ramstein where he set up a system of files and computer programs that track all of the required training military firefighters need.

Airman Gerdes was named the 2005 Department of Defense Military Firefighter of the Year. First nominated at the U.S. Air Forces in Europe level, Airman Gerdes was named the best in the Air Force and then the best in the DOD, competing against Marines, Soldiers and Sailors.

“I love my job,” he said. “I started at Ramstein 2 1/2 years ago and I hit the ground running. I tried to find every opportunity to advance,” he said.

Airman Gerdes, a fire engineer, drives the fire truck and is responsible for getting the water from the truck to the firefighters working a fire. He volunteers during Fire Prevention Month, for Armedforces Against Drunk Drinking and at the Fisher House.

“I try to find new ways to improve on computers, like track training on Excel – stuff that makes everyone’s job easier,” he said. The key is staying motivated and interested in learning new things, he said.

The 435th CES firefighters have a winning track record in USAFE and Air Force-wide competitions. In 2004, Airman William Strauss was named Air Force Firefighter of the Year and this year Airman 1st Class Alston Calderon is the USAFE Firefighter of the Year. He will advance to the Air Force level competition. And, then there is Paul Erickson, civilian, assistant chief of operations at the 435th CES fire department. He was named the 2005 Civilian Fire Officer of the Year.

“It’s the guys,” Mr. Erickson said, sharing credit with the chief, the Airmen and the civilians who make up the nearly 300 member-firefighting team.
“We delegate,” Mr. Erickson said. “We have A1Cs doing staff sergeant work. We give them responsibility, maturing them and mentoring them.”

Ramstein is the largest fire department in the Air Force and responds to about 4,000 calls year. That’s equal to the amount of calls a city of about 200,000 would see, according to Fire House Magazine’s annual report, Mr. Erickson said.

“You come here and you fix problems,” Mr. Erickson said. “And, that’s what you do.”