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Aviano on Fire: 2020 AF Fire Department of the Year

Aviano’s Fire Department earned the Air Force Fire Department of the Year for 2020.

Members from the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron’s Fire Department pose for a group photo at Aviano Air Base, Italy, March 18, 2021. Aviano’s Fire Department earned the Air Force Fire Department of the Year for 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Savannah L. Waters)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --

Aviano’s Fire Department extinguished the competition in this year’s Air Force Fire Department of the Year, saving lives and getting the mission done during 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic.

Navigating the challenges of the pandemic presented an opportunity for service members across the Department of Defense to find new, innovative ways to complete the mission in a COVID-safe way.

“Since [Italy] was the epicenter of COVID-19 [in Europe], we decided to break our two-shift posture into a three-shift posture, and placed members in different dispersal locations to mitigate exposure to the virus,” said Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Walsh, 31st Civil Engineer Squadron installation fire chief.

The 31st CES provides, operates and maintains the installation infrastructure, facilities and housing necessary to support aerospace forces at Aviano, and for the last year or so they’ve juggled a fast-spreading virus with their everyday duties.

As the European Union’s most inspected surety wing, Aviano’s Fire Department drove dual wing integration, supported global surety deployments, gained four geographically separated unit divert airfields, mitigated COVID manning shortfalls for the U.S. Army, and accomplished many more milestones.

The team also crushed 421 courses, earned 321 certifications, and was critical to NATO’s joint service coalition by establishing the EU’s first fire Emergency Medical Technician Instructor and Basic Course, completing over 200 hours of training which resulted in practical and national certifications supporting 76 wings.

“Even with social distancing and sanitation measures, we were still responding every day,” said Senior Airman Jared Pena, 31st CES firefighter. “Emergencies never stopped, we came in every day and saved lives.”

Aviano’s fire department spent the last year ensuring the safety and welfare of Airmen and families within the community, as well as their Italian counterparts.

“I love being able to put this fire badge on every day, not everyone gets to wear this badge,” Tech. Sgt. Leigha Czerwinski, 31st CES logistics noncommissioned officer in charge. “It’s an honor to be not just a firefighter, but part of this team here.”

Among their other accomplishments, the team garnered 14 squadron, group, wing and DoD Firefighter of the Year awards, saved an off-base recycling center, drove a three million dollar live fire trainer project, implemented reduction costs service contracts, renovated various facilities and upheld old traditions here in Aviano.

Ready to execute the mission on multiple facets, these first responders are proud to be Wyvern Airmen.

“We have two names on our chest, we have to be proud of both of them,” Walsh said. “To my team, I’m super proud of what they were able to accomplish, and what they continue to do for our community and Fire Family.”