Photo by Sgt. Phuchung Nguyen
30 Sep 2022 | Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan
“I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman. The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which the fireman has to do believe that his is a noble calling. Our proudest moment is to save lives. Under the impulse of such thoughts, the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to do deeds of daring, even of supreme sacrifice.”
This statement was uttered by New York City Fire Department Fire Chief Edward R. Croker over a century ago and still rings true with many firemen today. Particularly inspired by this quote is Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Base Fire Marshall Michael Ballesteros Jr., who believes it embodies the essence of a firefighter’s job.
Ballesteros, a Hawaii native, is also a stern believer in an old saying he heard when he was young, one that invokes initiative and confidence in the face of adversity, which Ballesteros strives to possess every day in his job.
“In Hawaii we have this saying If can, can! If no can, can. What that really means is if you think you can do it, then do it, and if you think you can’t do it, do it; You are your only limitation.”
Both quotes reinforce an idea of bravery and exceeding one's limits in order to benefit oneself and those around. Ballesteros and the rest of the rest of MCAS Iwakuni’s fire department recognize that all these qualities are quintessential to the job of firefighting, which is inherently a job of selflessness and helping others.
“We devote all our efforts to safeguard the lives and property of the MCAS Iwakuni community from fire emergencies, natural disasters, and other emergency situations,” Ballesteros said. “Our mission is to save lives by providing all-hazard response services, to avert fires through prevention and education, while also securing a work environment that values cultural diversity and is free of harassment and discrimination.”
While keeping other people’s lives safe from danger is their number one priority, they must also focus on their own well-being on and off the job. With the inevitable conflict of personal and professional life on their minds, these firefighters actually have a remedy that helps them perform their duties every day.
“Personal and professional life -it is one and the same,” Ballesteros said. “See, while most people have one home to go to, firefighters have two: on and off duty. Because we are so much like a family, we rely on each other’s mentorship, so we’re all great at ensuring that we are good to go.”
Working around the clock and ready for anything at a moment's notice, MCAS Iwakuni’s fire department doesn’t just put its focus on stopping fires, but also on educating the populace on base about how to mitigate fires by providing information such as the “12 for 12 Safety tips,” posted on their social media page every month, and by hosting events during fire prevention week in October, which allows MCAS Iwakuni personnel participate and practice using fire prevention equipment.
While firefighters such as Ballesteros waste no time in giving their time back to the community, Ballesteros says the exchange of gratitude is mutual, as the community always makes time to help and give back to the firefighters who serve on base.
“The community responds very well; they are always asking us to come out and either put on a display, demonstration, or request fire and life safety training,” Ballesteros says. “The community is really good about providing feedback on what services we provide, and it allows us to re-evaluate and adjust to meet their needs.”
Their hard work and dedication hardly goes unnoticed as they have recently been recognized this year by the Center for Public Safety Excellence as an accredited Fire Department.
Ballesteros says rewards and recognition are fantastic, but the true reward for his job is something much more simple than anything physical. He proclaims it’s about the positive feelings that come from helping those in need, and he reiterates that many firefighters share this understanding.
“Knowing that what we do benefits the community makes coming to work worth it every day,” Ballesteros says. “They give us love, support and trust, and that helps us tremendously.”