AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
Staff Sgt. Edward Gregory has a rather long title. He’s the Fire Emergency Service health and safety noncommissioned officer in charge for the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
It’s a Department of Defense-wide position. Every fire department has someone in this role to ensure the cleanliness of firefighters’ living quarters, facilities and equipment, as well as ensure they have proper protective equipment to keep them healthy, from clean oxygen in their self-contained breathing apparatus to N-95 masks for patient contact.
“I never knew how much behind-the-scenes work it takes to run a fire department, or the behind-the-scenes that goes on with Wing safety,” he said. “I have meetings with people from safety and from the clinic.”
In addition to meeting with agencies like security forces, medical, command post and safety, Gregory manages the hazards that come with the many missions for the department: aircraft and structure fires, medical calls, hazardous materials, vehicle extraction, and high and low angle rescues. For him, the imperative of the job is not very different from being a firefighter on call.
“It's almost like being on the floor, honestly, because if I'm fully doing my job as a safety officer then something's going wrong or somebody has been injured, and that's the same as the job being a fireman,” he said. “We don't want to be doing the response side of our job all the time. That means something's wrong.”
He has been a firefighter for 14 years in the Air Force. He knew in eighth grade he wanted to join the military.
“I wanted to do any job that meant I was serving my country,” Gregory emphasized. “I get the best of both worlds because I’m also a fireman. In technical training, we have a saying ‘Protect those who protect our nation.’ We do the same stuff that firemen on the outside do. We’re still first responders, just to the nation’s first responders.”
This deployment is his last as a firefighter. Gregory is transitioning into a new job in the Air Force as a recruiter. And the nature of the job will be very different.
“It’s going to be hard, the fire department’s always been like a family and a brotherhood,” he said. “It’s going to be weird not having the same camaraderie. When we’re at the station on shift, we live with each other, eat together and fight alongside each other. Even on deployment when firefighters are coming from different bases, after a month or two of training together you’re just as cohesive. My firefighter friends are the closest I have in the military.”