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A Heritage of Service: The 133rd Airlift Wing Fire Department Closes its Doors

Amid a backdrop of memorial plaques and helmets honoring their members, Master Sgt. Mark Legvold, base fire chief, prepares for the closing ceremony of the 133rd Fire Department on Sept 22.  The ceremony honored firefighters from the past and present and were able to reflect not only on their heritage of service, but on the human aspect of the cuts the military has faced in 2013.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

Amid a backdrop of memorial plaques and helmets honoring their members, Master Sgt. Mark Legvold, base fire chief, prepares for the closing ceremony of the 133rd Fire Department on Sept 22. The ceremony honored firefighters from the past and present and were able to reflect not only on their heritage of service, but on the human aspect of the cuts the military has faced in 2013. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

Bruce Rossini, Don Nelson, Bob Nelson, Bob Koenig and John Wallgren were among some of the former 133rd Fire Department Chiefs honored during the closing ceremony of the 133rd Fire Department on Sept 22.  In Feb. 2012, the National Guard Bureau directed the 133rd Airlift Wing Fire Department to close its doors.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

Bruce Rossini, Don Nelson, Bob Nelson, Bob Koenig and John Wallgren were among some of the former 133rd Fire Department Chiefs honored during the closing ceremony of the 133rd Fire Department on Sept 22. In Feb. 2012, the National Guard Bureau directed the 133rd Airlift Wing Fire Department to close its doors. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

Among his peers, friends and family, Master Sgt. Mark Legvold, base fire chief, proceeds over the  closing ceremony of the 133rd Fire Department on Sept 22.  In Feb. 2012, the National Guard Bureau directed the 133rd Airlift Wing Fire Department to close its doors.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

Among his peers, friends and family, Master Sgt. Mark Legvold, base fire chief, proceeds over the closing ceremony of the 133rd Fire Department on Sept 22. In Feb. 2012, the National Guard Bureau directed the 133rd Airlift Wing Fire Department to close its doors. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

Master Sgt. Mark Legvold, base fire chief, Master Sgt. Dan Hendricks, assistant chief of operations, and Tech Sgt. Brent Knodle, firefighter, conduct a ‘last alarm’ ceremony to honor fallen 133rd Fire Department Firefighters during the closing ceremony of the department on Sept 22.  In Feb. 2012, the National Guard Bureau directed the 133rd Airlift Wing Fire Department to close its doors.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

Master Sgt. Mark Legvold, base fire chief, Master Sgt. Dan Hendricks, assistant chief of operations, and Tech Sgt. Brent Knodle, firefighter, conduct a ‘last alarm’ ceremony to honor fallen 133rd Fire Department Firefighters during the closing ceremony of the department on Sept 22. In Feb. 2012, the National Guard Bureau directed the 133rd Airlift Wing Fire Department to close its doors. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

“When we got the call, it was like someone punched us in the gut,” stated Senior Master Sgt. Tom McDonough, 133rd fire chief and member of the department since 1988.  McDonough was the last 133rd Fire Department Chief and retired as a part of the closing ceremony on Sept 22.  In Feb. 2012, the National Guard Bureau directed the 133rd Airlift Wing Fire Department to close its doors.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

“When we got the call, it was like someone punched us in the gut,” stated Senior Master Sgt. Tom McDonough, 133rd fire chief and member of the department since 1988. McDonough was the last 133rd Fire Department Chief and retired as a part of the closing ceremony on Sept 22. In Feb. 2012, the National Guard Bureau directed the 133rd Airlift Wing Fire Department to close its doors. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

Lt. Col. James Wentzlaff, deputy commander for the 133rd mission support group and former 133rd civil engineer squadron commander, addresses the crowd during the closing ceremony for the 133rd Fire Department on Sept 22.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

Lt. Col. James Wentzlaff, deputy commander for the 133rd mission support group and former 133rd civil engineer squadron commander, addresses the crowd during the closing ceremony for the 133rd Fire Department on Sept 22. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

A special backdrop for the closing ceremony of the 133rd Fire Department consisted of memorial plaques and helmets honoring their members. The fire department has definitely left its mark on the 133rd Airlift Wing and the Air Force in its 42 year history, leaving a heritage of excellence. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

A special backdrop for the closing ceremony of the 133rd Fire Department consisted of memorial plaques and helmets honoring their members. The fire department has definitely left its mark on the 133rd Airlift Wing and the Air Force in its 42 year history, leaving a heritage of excellence. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

During the closing ceremony for the 133rd Fire Department, Master Sgt. Brian Schumacher and Tech Sgt. David Shepard, fire department station captains, take down the sign symbolizing the closing of the doors for the firefighters.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

During the closing ceremony for the 133rd Fire Department, Master Sgt. Brian Schumacher and Tech Sgt. David Shepard, fire department station captains, take down the sign symbolizing the closing of the doors for the firefighters. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

The remaining members of the 133rd Fire Department pose for one final group photo after the closing ceremony for the crew.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

The remaining members of the 133rd Fire Department pose for one final group photo after the closing ceremony for the crew. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/ Released)

In 1975, 133rd Firefighters pose at the end of their deployment for training, along with Civil Engineer Officer Capt. William Hendrickson
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In 1975, 133rd Firefighters pose at the end of their deployment for training, along with Civil Engineer Officer Capt. William Hendrickson. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Air National Guard.

In 1974, the 133rd fire department received its first new truck, an Air Force P-4.  Here, firefighters take a photo with their vehicle training instructor from Chanute AFB.  The P-4 was used at the 133rd until replaced in 2008.  Courtesy of the Minnesota Air National Guard.
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In 1974, the 133rd fire department received its first new truck, an Air Force P-4. Here, firefighters take a photo with their vehicle training instructor from Chanute AFB. The P-4 was used at the 133rd until replaced in 2008. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Air National Guard.

Firefighters from the 133rd are shown during a deployment in Puerto Rico in 1981.  Courtesy of the Minnesota Air National Guard.
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Firefighters from the 133rd are shown during a deployment in Puerto Rico in 1981. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Air National Guard.

At the end of an annual Deployment for Training in 1982, the firefighters of the 133rd are photographed by the Air Force’s second largest crash truck, a 2000 gallon P-2.  Courtesy of the Minnesota Air National Guard.
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At the end of an annual Deployment for Training in 1982, the firefighters of the 133rd are photographed by the Air Force’s second largest crash truck, a 2000 gallon P-2. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Air National Guard.

09/23/2013 -- On a Minnesota fall afternoon amid a backdrop of memorial plaques and helmets honoring their members, firefighters past and present were able to reflect not only on their heritage of service, but on the human aspect of the cuts the military has faced in 2013. The disbanding of the 133rd Airlift Wing Fire Department has made a significant impact on members throughout the Wing, past and present.

In Feb. 2012, the National Guard Bureau gave the news that the 133rd Airlift Wing Fire Department was to close. At that time, over half of the 27 member department was deployed to Southwest Asia. Those left in Minnesota were all very busy preparing for an upcoming compliance inspection. Despite the distance, the commander felt a commitment to make sure the news was delivered to the fire department by him first.

"I wanted to let them know personally, and right away," explained Lt. Col. James Wentzlaff, deputy commander for the 133rd Mission Support Group and former 133rd Civil Engineer Squadron commander. "I called Chief Tom McDonough overseas and asked him to relay the news to the rest of the department with my deepest regrets."

The call was one that no leader or Airmen who loves their job wants to get - that the department members will be forced to hang up their helmets for the last time. The history of togetherness, family, deployments and training would soon come to a close.

"When we got the call, it was like someone punched us in the gut," stated Senior Master Sgt. Tom McDonough, 133rd fire chief and member of the department since 1988. Around a year and a half later, during September drill, the closing ceremony officially marked their transition to new positions and to celebrate their proud heritage dating back to the early 1970's.

The first fire chief of the 133rd Fire Department, Don Nelson, who is in his 70's, was joined by all living, retired fire chiefs during the closing ceremony. They still spoke with strong emotion and vigorous enthusiasm when it came to the department, even during the final moments.

"We started in 1971 while the active duty was drawing down," said Nelson about his beginnings at the 133rd Fire Department. "I came over from the 934th Air Force Reserve and there were a bunch of Staff Sergeants and I was a Technical Sergeant, which made me the chief."

Each year the 133rd Fire Department deployed for training, starting in 1972 to Puerto Rico. The firefighters filled countless missions, providing airfield fire coverage at Camp Ripley, Minn. and the downtown St. Paul, Minn. airfield during the Republican National Convention in 2008.

Domestically the fire department deployed during state wild fires and sent a large crew to Mississippi immediately following Hurricane Katrina. Even in 2013, they were requested to provide coverage for the Texas ANG during their exercise at Volk Field, Wis.

Both the final deployment and the wing compliance Inspection ended on the same day, and both had excellent results: No write-ups, excellent performance and outstanding attitude and energy. The performance of the department was further recognized by the awarding of the 'ANG Small Fire Department of the Year for 2012', which was presented by ANG Fire Chief Association Representative, Senior Master Sgt. Matt Davies, at the closing ceremony.
"We're definitely going out on top," said Chief McDonough, who is currently an assistant chief with St. Paul Fire Department and retired from the ANG on the department's last drill weekend.

Not everyone on the 27 person team was able to retire at closing, however, and finding good opportunities for all in the unit was an invigorating and rewarding challenge for leadership within the fire department. Many are moving to new occupations within the wing; such as carpentry, loadmaster, maintenance, safety and security forces. Several have found use for their firefighting skills in emergency medicine and advanced search and rescue within the 133rd Medical Group as part of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Enhanced Response Force team. Two of the firefighters are commissioning into new occupations and other members found new homes in other ANG fire departments from Duluth, Minn to St. Joseph, Mo.

"You've already had the best job in the Air Force. Now you are moving on to exciting new opportunities... embrace it and make a difference," said Chief McDonough to the rest of the members during the closing ceremony.

The fire department has definitely left its mark on the 133rd Airlift Wing and the Air Force in its 42 year history, leaving a heritage of excellence. Most importantly, they have been an example of the togetherness and teamwork that has personified the mission ready family and embodies the values the ANG strives for.