Son follows father's footsteps into firefighting

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Minnette Grier
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
As the chief master sergeant walked through the firefighter school here, he exchanged friendly smiles and greetings with students, instructors and other staff members who passed by.

Standing at about 6 feet tall with his back straight and his head held high, the man displays an obvious pride in what he does for a living.

"The smell brings back memories," he said, "more than any other senses...walking through the high bay and smelling the turnouts and sweat of firefighters, diesel exhaust from the truck, and being out here on the pad and getting a whiff of smoke once in a while. It's good to go back to your roots."

For Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Rabonza, the 312th Training Squadron superintendent at Louis F. Garland Fire Academy, those firefighter roots now extend to his family. His son, Airman Nick Rabonza, just graduated from the school Oct. 18, becoming the family's second generation of firefighters.

"I always kept my work and home life separate, so the kids didn't really know a whole lot of what I did or all the different aspects of being a firefighter or a fire chief," the elder Rabonza said. "When they got older, they learned that 'Dad' does a lot more than go to work every day."

Young Rabonza enlisted in the Air Force on May 14. He arrived at basic training hoping to get a job as a firefighter.

"I don't think I want to do anything else besides (firefighting)," he said. "I grew up around it, and I want to follow in my father's footsteps. Sept. 11 was also a booster."

The chief enlisted in the Air Force more than 25 years ago with a guaranteed job to become a firefighter. Training was a little different back then, because technology was not as advanced as it is today, he said.

"We were trained on how to raise ladders, pull hoses, put out fires and rescue people, but there were no particular guidelines that said exactly what we needed to be trained on," the chief said.

Today, the latest technology and fire science research is used to hone the firefighter skills of the airmen, sailors, soldiers and Marines who attend the Department of Defense school here.

"These days, here at the fire academy, everybody is trained according to the national fire protection standards," the chief said. "(Courses) are accredited by the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress, and students receive certifications upon graduation."

Students must complete seven courses of instruction prior to graduating. Some areas of instruction include fire protection fundamentals, emergency medical care, structural firefighting principles, structural fire ground principles and hazardous materials.

"There are a lot of expectations," the younger Rabonza said. "I have a lot on my shoulders, but my dad doesn't make me feel that way. I'm just a regular student here, learning how to be firefighter and looking forward to being a part of the operational Air Force."

The chief said his son is a good thinker, a team player and hard worker. He explained that training to be a firefighter can be difficult. Students have to be well trained in safety. They learn how to handle different situations with stress and chaos all around.

"When Nick said that he was planning on joining the Air Force, I was very proud," the chief said. "And then when he said that he wanted to be a firefighter, I was elated. I know the rigors of being a firefighter, and when Nick said that he wanted to be one, I did everything I could to make sure that it would happen.

"(The military) is a good place to grow up," the chief said. (Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)