Air Force firefighter veteran visits DoD fire school

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Erica Rodriguez
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
The year is 1961. A young airman steps into the fire station at Lincoln Air Force Base, Nebraska. His eyes take in all of the fire equipment; trucks, hoses, gear and the smell of engine oil fills his nose, at once he knows, he is right where he belongs.

Today Dr. Mike Manning, a 70 year old veteran, remembers those days as an Air Force firefighter fondly.

"I joined the Air Force because the judge who lived across the street from us suggested to my father that might be the best thing to do, seeing as how I was a spoiled little rich boy and I was always getting into trouble," said Manning, a smile on his face.

When Manning joined in 1961, firefighting was not the job the Air Force had originally intended for him to have.

"I thought firefighting would be a good idea, but they told me I was bright, that I should be an air traffic control operator," he said. "I went to the first sergeant and told him that if they forced me I would flunk myself out and become a cook. Rather than throw me through the wall, he instead had patience and asked me 'Well, what is that you want to do, son?' I was 17 years and 4 months old, and I said 'What are the two most dangerous jobs in the air force?' He looked at me like you would look at a puppy running down the interstate and opened up the book and said EOD or crash firefighting."

Manning was sent to Lincoln Air Force Base. To this day, he remembers his first run.

"They made me sit in the middle seat and I wasn't allowed to touch anything," he recalls. "The radios were going off and we had a B-47 coming in with an engine fire and the two linemen were behind me bunkering out and the crew chief was telling them where to go and what to do."

In 1968, Manning separated from the Air Force, using his time as a firefighter to help him obtain a doctorate in safety engineering.

"The impact of pulling rescues and fighting fires led me to become a safety engineer," he said. "The reason I like safety is because it's about saving lives. Unless you've seen someone dead, who's burned, how they look and how they suffered... there's no way to compare it."

Forty-four years later, Manning finally retired from his job but he wanted to put a close on his profession. So he submitted a request to tour the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy at Goodfellow, where all Defense Department firefighting training is conducted today.

Manning, along with his wife, drove from his home in New Mexico to the base in San Angelo, Texas to see how far firefighting has come since his days as a firefighter.

During his tour, school house instructors showed Manning historic fire trucks on display, the Norma Brown Air Force Base model and the structural trainers used to train the firefighters of today. Manning even saw the same model of the truck he drove during his time in the Air Force.

Afterwards, Manning compared today's methods of firefighting to those of his time.

"Now you think before you act," he said. "That's smart. If there's anything I could take back to my time for training it would be the instructors, because our only instructors were the crew chiefs."

Manning said the Air Force did more for him than push him towards a career; it gave him lessons in life.

"Everything of value I learned in my life, which helped me be a man, a husband and a father, I learned in the Air Force," he said. "They took me as a little snot-nose juvenile delinquent and rather than throw me in the cell they gave me a chance. And that's why I'm here. I'm 70. I don't have many years left. I want to see this."