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A band of brothers

A band of brothers

A 374th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter helmet sits on a fire truck at Yokota Air Base, Japan, May 7, 2020. All firefighters have their names written on the helmet to help identify them while in their gear. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

A band of brothers

A fire is ignited for a live fire training exercise at Yokota Air Base, Japan, April 23, 2020. Firefighters with the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron use propane lines in order to create and control a fire, during training exercises. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

A band of brothers

Tetsuaki Nihei, 374th Civil Engineer Squadron crew chief and firefighter, looks at the scene before a live fire training exercise at Yokota Air Base, Japan, April 22, 2020. The firefighters constantly train in order to gain experience and build unit cohesiveness to respond more efficiently in real-world scenarios. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

A band of brothers

Staff Sgt. Adam Carroll, 374th Civil Engineer Squadron crew chief and firefighter, unpacks a hose during a live fire training exercise at Yokota Air Base, Japan, April 23, 2020. The 374th CES firefighters respond to a number of emergencies, including fire, injury and aircraft malfunction. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

A band of brothers

Firefighters with the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron enter a training facility during a live fire training exercise at Yokota Air Base, Japan, April 23, 2020. During the training, the firefighters are split into three teams of two, with two teams extinguishing the fires and the remaining team on standby providing a safety line to help the primary teams. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

A band of brothers

Yohichi Sudoa, 374th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, attempts to put out a fire during a live fire training exercise at Yokota Air Base, Japan, April 23, 2020. Firefighters routinely conduct real life scenarios to stay current with training requirement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

A band of brothers

Airman Gavin Mason and Senior Airman Jade Strofaci, 374th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, unhook a hose after a training exercise at Yokota Air Base, Japan, May 6, 2020. Gear checks are crucial during any exercise to ensure safety, preparedness and readiness in the event of real-world situations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

A band of brothers

Firefighters with the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron repack their equipment after a live fire training exercise at Yokota Air Base, Japan, April 22, 2020. The firefighters arrange their fire protection gear and equipment to minimize donning time and maximize emergency response speed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

A band of brothers

Firefighters with the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron practice using the crash 5 fire truck to put out a fire during training at Yokota Air Base, Japan, May 7, 2020. The fire department has multiple fire trucks for different emergencies, each that require their own training and certification. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

A band of brothers
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Akiko Suzuki, 374th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, searches a room during a structural fire training at Yokota Air Base, Japan, May 15, 2020. The 374th firefighters are prepared to handle a variety of situations including extinguishing fires, search and rescue as well as providing field medical care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

A band of brothers
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Firefighters with the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron relax after the work day at Yokota Air Base, Japan, May 7, 2020. The fire station has bedrooms, showers, a gym and a kitchen available during the 24-hour shifts, minimizing the firefighters need to leave the building and maximizing their ability to access emergency response equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brieana E. Bolfing)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan --

The distinctive howl of a firetruck siren erupts, and suddenly, nightfall is ignited with pulsating flashes of red and blue. It arrives on scene and the brave Airmen inside leap into action, ready to handle whatever comes their way. They tackle fire and save lives like a well-oiled machine.

Once the job is done, the firefighters clean-up the scene and head back home. Not to their dorms or houses, but the one they share together--the fire station.

For the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department, the team is not merely a unit, but a family.

“Our relationship together goes beyond just work,” said Airman Gavin Mason, 374th CES firefighter. “We live together for half our lives, so we are quick to understand each other. We know everything about each other’s personal lives because who else is there to talk to when you’re on shift for 24 hours?”

Where most careers have shifts that are 8 or 12 hours long, these firefighters work and live alongside each other for 24 hours every shift. Sleeping, eating, studying and working-out are all done at the station with their fellow firefighters.

Looking back at all that time spent together, Mason shakes his head as he laughs about some of the funny situations that happened around the fire house.

“There was an emergency call while some people were in the shower,” Mason recalled. “They ran out butt-naked, dried themselves and geared up quickly to make it there in time.”

The stories and comradery among those inside the fire station help create a close-knit environment.

“You know you can trust anyone here, whether you are in trouble in a fire or just need encouragement and support,” said Staff Sgt. Hector Guemarez Colon, 374th CES crew chief and firefighter. “We have the big brothers who want to take care of you and the little brothers who want to tease you. Having that type of brotherhood is amazing. It definitely feels like a family, everyone cares about everybody and we help each other grow.

“We are going to give our best for one another no matter the condition.”

While most days are packed with training as well as fun, there are times when these firefighters are called for incidents that are emotionally hard to respond to.

“I received a call once where we arrived on-scene and it was an infant,” said Guemarez Colon. “We performed CPR, but unfortunately they were not responding. When we got to the hospital, they declared that the child was gone.

“It was an extremely heartbreaking situation to get through, but having the comradery allowed us to talk about it openly. We were sincere to one another which helped us be able to handle it and move forward.”

According to Mason, the team is very involved in each other’s lives. They are always looking out for one another and frequently act to bond as a family.

“We are never quick to put each other down,” said Mason. “If someone is having a bad day, we are there to talk it out with them and make sure they are okay.

“We will throw birthday parties, play video games together online, exercise or simply go out together to help ease the tension of work because it can get stressful.”

Off days are no exception for this band of firefighters, where they can be seen together still, whether it’s roaming the streets of Japan or a quick scrimmage in an open field.

“Once, we started a frisbee game that quickly changed,” said Mason. “It went into a 100-yard sprint before completely changing into some form of ‘jujitsu-wrestling-koala-grabbing’ match between everyone.”

The station erupted with laughter from the firefighters at Mason’s story as each friend retold other shared moments.

“It’s such an amazing job and community, because no matter where you are, if you run into another firefighter you will automatically feel a connection.”

Forged by fire, this connection establishes a bond so strong, it spans throughout their lives and careers.

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