The First Coast Navy Fire & Emergency Services, which is comprised of the NAS Jacksonville and NS Mayport Fire Departments, has been selected as Commander, Navy Region Southeast (CNRSE) Fire Department of the Year (large category) for 2016. The department has earned this award four times in the past six years.
The Fire Prevention Division also earned top honors for their exceptional performance and dedication. NAS Jax Fire Engineer Kevin Meeks is the region's civilian firefighter of the year and Fire Inspector Anita Wilson of Naval Station Mayport is the fire inspector of the year.
"I am so very proud of our team and all they have accomplished," said First Coast Navy Fire Chief Mark Brusoe. "It takes great dedication by our firefighters to continuously meet the needs of our community which they do every single day."
One of the biggest challenges in 2016 was providing support at Cecil Commerce Center during the NAS Jax runway construction project. The team successfully coordinated a joint municipal/federal airfield firefighting team, mitigating 85 emergencies. They also support the Pinecastle Range Complex and Outlying Field Whitehouse.
Other mutual aid responses included assisting with 175-acre wildfire, several high level trauma cases, multi-vehicle accidents and various health-related incidents.
"We saved 13 lives on the two bases last year, received 24 lifesaving awards and 16 significant event recognition for direct actions," said Brusoe.
"But I think our best reward was when a patient who we had saved on the golf course here, came in with his family to personally thank us. That is why we are here."
Firefighters at both bases spend many hours training to increase their proficiencies in emergency situations. Some of this certified training includes advanced life support, hazardous materials, rappelling, damage control and evacuation on board ships, and exercising with the mobile aircraft live fire trainer. They also participate in numerous active shooter, shipboard/aircraft fire and mass casualty drills.
The fire prevention division, comprised of eight fire safety inspectors at NAS Jax and NS Mayport, performed more than 2,700 mission-critical fire inspections of buildings, piers, wharves and flight lines. They also issued more than 750 hazardous mission operations permits and reviewed more than 250 construction projects ensuring code compliance.
Assistant chief for the division, Robert Winchester said he believes they earned the award due to "thinking outside the box."
"We do a lot of innovative processes and have worked hard at not only doing our jobs, but going beyond," Winchester said.
In FY16, the prevention division began offering CPR/AED training, instead of bringing in other organizations to provide the training. Around 300 personnel received the training saving the government $35,000.
The division also goes outside the base to continue educating the public about safety procedures.
"We are bridging the gap with our local schools and community centers and we work with other local departments on training," Winchester said.
"This is a brotherhood of city, county, state and federal - we all do the same job."
According to Winchester, he believes the fire warden training that is done quarterly has helped reduce the amount of hazards on the base. Each squadron is required to have a warden and an alternate.
"We aren't scared to take responsibility of teaching people the right way to do things," Winchester said. "Just remember - fires start small."
According to Assistant Fire Chief Scott Bloomer, the outstanding work of the fire prevention division is key to the low number of fires on the station.
"We do not fight a lot of fires on base; we shouldn't be fighting a lot of fires on base," said Bloomer.
"This just shows you why our fire prevention division is top notch. And this is where our mutual aid comes into play - we assist out in town which is where our people get the experience of structure fires."
Earning the Civilian Firefighter of the Year award came as a big surprise for Meeks, who has worked at the NAS Jax Fire Department since 2007.
"I was shocked that I won this award because this is a raised level of competition," said Meeks. "I'm very humbled and thank everyone for supporting me."
Meeks, who was also recently named NAS Jax Junior Civilian of the Year, is a lead officer on the engines. In 2016, he responded to more than 200 community calls for assistance with multiple vehicle accidents with injuries, directed firefighting measures to a structure fire at NAS Jax and performed several lifesaving actions.
He also ensured mission readiness by overseeing the Self Contained Breathing Apparatus equipment program saving more than $10,000 in maintenance costs.
Wilson, has worked at NS Mayport as an inspector and dispatcher for 17 years.
"I was estatic," Wilson said about the award. "It is nice to be recognized for the work that you do."
"We are a full spectrum fire department and I have the best team in the world because they always want to come to work and love what they do," said Brusoe.
"And, I would really like to thank our commanding officer, Capt. Sean Haley, executive officer, Capt. Mike Connor and our former commanding officer, Capt. Howard Wanamaker for all their continued support. Their support has been phenomenal from helping to keep us trained, providing us the equipment to do the job and upgrading our facility - we really appreciate it."
First Coast Navy Fire and Emergency Services will now represent CNRSE in the upcoming Commander, Navy Installations Command Fire and Emergency Services competition.