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Turn up the heat: Maintenance Airman 'on fire'

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cortney Paxton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Airmen in the U.S. Air Force are expected to follow three core values: Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do - values one maintenance Airman lives up to every day.

Airman 1st Class Aaron Billings grew up on a 175-head dairy farm, which gave him experience with heavy equipment and taught him the importance of a good work ethic; things he's expected to know during his everyday job as a Hardened Interstate Cable System technician for the 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron.

"Billings is one of my harder workers here," said Master Sgt. Ricardo J. Andrillon Narvaez, 341st MMXS HICS NCO in charge. "He's very good with heavy equipment, ... he digs holes and pushes snow. He kind of takes the lead on that and helps other people take the lead on that, too."

Taking the lead is something Billings has always had his eyes set on. Although following high school, he enrolled in college as a psychology major, his heart was set on joining the Air Force. After only a year and a half in college, Billings found an Air Force recruiter hoping to become a tactical air control party specialist.

"I wanted to be in TACP, but I went to the recruiter and he said I was too tall," he said. "I'm 6 feet 8 inches tall, so my dreams [faded] pretty quick. Then I wanted to be a diesel mechanic so my recruiter told me to put down open mechanical. I got picked for this job during basic. When I first heard I was going to be working on nuclear missiles, I was [excited]."

Billings often operates heavy equipment, which he says reminds him of home where he drove tractors and other farming machines. It was back at his home where an event took place that encouraged him to selflessly devote his off-duty time as a volunteer firefighter for the Gore Hill Fire Department in Great Falls, Mont.

"In May, I had a really close friend - a friend of my entire family - pass away," he said. "He was an [Emergency Medical Technician] and was in an ambulance going to a call when it happened. It was raining really bad and the driver hydroplaned and slid off of the road; pretty much the entire passenger side of the ambulance smashed into a tree and crushed him on the spot. That was May 21 and I was out in Oscar Flight [staying in the missile complex] that week. My mom called me at 5 o'clock in the morning and told me. I had to keep my composure the rest of the week. Once I got to my room I just [broke down]. A week after that, one of my friends told me he was joining the fire department, so I asked if I could join. I wanted to either be an EMT or firefighter ... to commemorate him."

As a volunteer firefighter, Billings spends a good amount of off-duty time - sometimes two to three times a week - training to fight fires as a nozzle man, which is the person who operates the fire hose, and also as a tool man who does numerous things like charging and pushing in doors.

"There is a lot of training," he said. "One week you'll be learning radio communication and the next week will be structure fires, which has several different training areas. Then there are wild land fires, car fires, extrication and everything like that. It never stops. With the fire department, you do it until you get it right, and then you keep doing it until you can't get it wrong."
Since joining, Billings has been on nearly 10 fire calls - the first of which he recalls vividly.

"My first fire was on July 4 and it was a wild land fire," he said. "It was the biggest fire I had ever seen in my life. It had like 7-foot-tall flames - it was just like a wall. We got it out and had a crew making sure there were no more hot spots in the 'black' when we got another call for a fire up the road. So we took off in the truck and got up to that fire, which was even bigger and scarier. It was weird because on the one side was a road, a field and two houses, but on the other side, there was just a cliff. So we went down to the fire and started putting it out with our hand tools ... then we saw a hay bale catch on fire - we would spray it down for like four minutes straight and then two seconds later it would light back up. We had to tear apart the entire hay bale and disperse it to make sure there were no more hot spots in it. Then another fire department responded to that fire and they almost drove their truck off the cliff."

The truck nearly driving off of the cliff wasn't the only close call he has had fighting fires. According to Billings, he responded to a house fire in town and was almost injured in the fire-fighting process. He was pulling a fire hose for the hose man when it got tangled. He found it caught on a bed in the house and while he was untangling it, the bed caught fire, shooting the temperature from 150 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit instantly, he said.

Although Billings is unsure if firefighting is something he will consider as a career in the future, he does plan to get his Fire Fighter One and EMT certifications so that he can volunteer with any fire department.

"I volunteer in honor of my friend passing away - I do it to remember him," he said. "But I also think it is fun. It's amazing saving people's lives. When you first pull a person out of a fire you kind of feel like a hero, and I like that feeling. That's why I do it."