THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Ministry of Defence fireman David Ives took to the skies with fellow firefighters Steve Tipler and Barry Clark in an American KC-135 Stratotanker a month ago, marking the conclusion of his 24-year duty.
Mr. Ives had worked at the west Suffolk air base for the last 20 years and hung up his firefighter boots for the last time on March 12.
During his time at the base's 100th Civil Engineer Squadron, he provided emergency response to aircraft including the Lockheed MC-130 and the tiltrotor Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey.
Speaking after his flight, Mr. Ives said he is in awe of the pilots' work.
He said: "Seeing everything that close was amazing, there are no words to fully describe the feeling.
"I was in awe of the abilities that the pilots and boom operators have, being able to get that close and do it safely.
"As a firefighter I'm part of the mission, but this experience gave me the opportunity to see how we as first responders tie into the refueling mission.
"I realized I'm one small cog among many others in one large machine, and I was able to see it all work together."
The giant KC-135 aircraft is USAF's core refueling capability and provides support to allied forces across the world.
Colonel Troy Pananon, USAF commander of the 100th Air Refueling Wing, said experiences such as these help to build cohesion between teams, and show firefighters the imperative role they play at the base.
Col. Pananon said: "We become a better force when we have collective shared interests and understanding
"Our firefighters are highly trained and clearly understand their role to protect the community and respond to emergency aircraft when called upon.
"We need firefighters to understand or observe our duties, just as much as our aviators need to understand, discuss and observe the roles and responsibilities of our firefighters.
"When there is a shared perspective, we strengthen the mutual respect and trust between the teams, thereby increasing performance in the event of an emergency."