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From left, Shawn Bowen, a civilian at Marine Corps Intelligence Activity; Cpl. Stefanie Thelin, an avionics technician at Marine Helicopter Squadron 1; and Sgt. Luke Budo, warfighting instructor at The Basic School, are ready for their overnight shift at Dumfries-Triangle Volunteer Fire Department Station 3-F on July 1, 2013.

Photo by Mike DiCicco

Quantico warfighters moonlight as firefighters

1 Jul 2013 | Mike DiCicco Marine Corps Base Quantico

As the career firefighters at Dumfries-Triangle Volunteer Fire Department Station 3-F were packing their gear and preparing to go home, Sgt. Luke Budo, a warfighting instructor at The Basic School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, was checking the tanks and cabinets of the fire truck he might ride later that night.

Having arrived around 5:30 p.m., after changing out of his cammies, he would spend the night of July 1, 2013, at the station, which is on Route 1 just north of the base, with the rest of his volunteer crew and then leave for work at TBS a little before 6 a.m.

“You may get some nights where you get three calls throughout the night, so you only get one hour of sleep and you’ve still got to go to your other job,” he said.

Of the station’s 68 “operational” volunteers — meaning those who go out on fire and rescue calls — nine are Marines from Quantico.

Fire Chief Miles Young, who leads the volunteers, said Quantico Marines have been part of life at the station for decades. He started volunteering there when he was stationed at Quantico in 1970 and became fire chief about 10 years later.

“I started just like these guys, walking in and thinking it was just going to be for a few years,” Young said.

He said it’s an arrangement that benefits the base as positive community outreach, the station by helping it fill the volunteer ranks that work the less desirable hours at no charge, and, often, the Marines themselves, who may later parlay their training and experience into fire-fighting careers.

“And we like having them because they’re so disciplined, it works out nice,” Young added.

The volunteers are divided into four crews that take turns covering the 12-hour night shift on weeknights, and each crew works every fourth weekend. They also run the station during holidays.

Cpl. Stefanie Thelin, an avionics technician with Marine Helicopter Squadron 1 aboard Quantico, said she looked into volunteering at the station almost two years ago, after a staff sergeant she works with recommended it to her. She found that she liked the adrenaline rush of riding a blaring fire truck to a blaze and took pride in helping people in need.

“And the people I work with here, I love them,” she said. “They’re a good group of people. I’d trust them with my life, which is important in our business.”

Budo, who has volunteered at the station for about two and a half years, agreed. “All the camaraderie you get in the Marine Corps, you get that here, too, with your crew,” he said.

Growing up in Arnold, Mo., outside St. Louis, he always had an interest in working fire and rescue, he said. Now, he said the work pays off when someone thanks him for his help or when victims who had no vital signs regain a pulse after he’s performed CPR on them. He looks forward to the excitement of vehicle fires and others that he’s allowed to fight.

Until they’ve completed fire academy training, the volunteers aren’t authorized to enter life-threatening situations, like structure fires.

Budo would like to complete that training, when his schedule allows it, and go on to fight fires professionally, he said. “I would highly enjoy it if this was my career once I got out [of the Marine Corps].”

Thelin, who will separate from active duty in November, is already looking for career opportunities with fire departments in the area, as well as around her hometown of Klamath Falls, Ore., she said.

Shawn Bowen, another Quantico employee who volunteers at the station, isn’t a Marine, and he isn’t looking for a career as a firefighter. Bowen works cyber-security as a civilian at Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, and he joined the volunteer fire department because his brother, a firefighter and the only member of his extended family who hasn’t been in the military, seemed to have better stories than him.

After more than three years volunteering at the station, he’s now completed fire academy training. He discovered a few months into the academy that his father, who also volunteers as a firefighter, was attending the same training at the same time in Syracuse, N.Y. He said the shared lingo and stories have brought the family closer.

Bowen also spends a weekend each month training as an Air Force reservist. The schedule keeps him busy.

“I’ve done CPR at 4 in the morning for an hour-plus, then tried to get an hour of sleep, then gone into a meeting and tried to stay awake,” he said, adding that energy drinks make a large part of his diet on those days.

But Bowen has his reasons to spend his time volunteering.

“I live in the area, so if my house goes up in flames, I’ll go put water on it,” he said. “And I’m not going to stop doing stuff for the community, whether it’s the nation or locally.”

— Writer:

Marine Corps Base Quantico