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Angie Wieck, Published September 09 2012

It's My Job: Air Guard firefighter faces unique challenges

FARGO – Unless you need their help, the important job Michael L. Miller and his co-workers do for the community goes mostly unnoticed.

Staff Sgt. Miller is one of the firefighters for the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Wing stationed near Hector International Airport. It is their job to respond to all military and civilian aircraft emergencies at the airport.

Aircraft fires are unique because of the extreme heat associated with burning jet fuel.

In addition to firefighting training, Miller was required to earn first responder, hazmat operations and airport firefighter designations.

Fire trucks used by the unit are equipped with hoses attached to arms that can be maneuvered from inside the truck. The trucks also have thermal imaging capabilities to search for hot spots and can carry their own water supply.

Miller recently talked about his military background and how that led him to become a firefighter.

Q. When did you join the military?

I joined in 1999. I started in the Marine Corps and did four years in the infantry stationed in California. … When I was discharged, I didn’t want to be done with the military, so I thought the Guard was the perfect option. It allows me to still wear the uniform and serve the country, which is what I want to do. I just didn’t want to do it full time.

What made you join the military?

I’ve always had a sense of service. Seeing somebody else have an easier life because mine is a bit harder, that brings joy to me.

Have you ever deployed with the 119th?

When I first joined the Air Guard, we manned the F-16 fighter jets out here. I was actually in the weapons element. I loaded the missiles on the planes and I repaired the gun system on the F-16. I deployed to Iraq in the summer of 2006.

How did this lead to becoming a firefighter?

When I got back from Iraq, there was a plan to retire the fighter jets, so I needed to look for a new job. I always thought about firefighting, but until then the avenue hadn’t presented itself. ... I was able to train through the Department of Defense. The DOD has a fire academy at the Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo. They get you ready to come out and find a career in firefighting.

What do you love about your job?

Definitely the guys. We have a lot of fun out here. I love the family aspect of it. In the Marines, we were really tight in the infantry. … When I got out of the Marines, I didn’t have that, and I kind of need that, actually. I found that in the Air Guard and I really found that in firefighting. I spend a third of my year with these guys, so in a way it’s another family. We bicker and fight and we laugh, just like a family.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501