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Army’s top firefighter is actually an Airman

Senior Airman Steven Soto wins coveted Army award

Northwest Guardian

Published: 02:09PM April 4th, 2013
Army’s top firefighter is actually an Airman

Christopher Gaylord/Northwest Guardian


Any good-natured jabs exchanged between Army and Air Force personnel, however subtle, might have lost a little sting last week. Department of the Army announced March 25 that its best firefighter of 2012 is no Soldier. He’s an Airman.

Senior Airman Steven Soto was named the 2012 Firefighter of the Year for the Army’s Installation Management Command on March 1. Soto, who joined the Air Force in 2010 and arrived at JBLM in February 2011, has bested the competition at DA level and now moves on to vie with counterparts from the other four military services for the Department of Defense’s best firefighter title. Those counterparts ironically include another Airman, one designated as the Air Force’s best.

Soto belongs to Fire Station 105 on McChord Field, the only one of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s six stations where active duty military firefighters work. About 10 Soldiers and 30 Airmen pull shifts there.

Military Firefighter of the Year, one of several categories that make up the DOD’s Fire and Emergency Services Annual Awards program, recognizes the best of the field from each service and in the end, honors one winner.

“We’re looking forward to the (DOD) results,” said Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Maxwell, JBLM’s military deputy fire chief, who oversees the Airmen – including Soto – at Station 105.

“Any time one of the Airmen wins an award at this level, it’s just a huge sense of pride,” he said. “It’s gratifying watching them compete.”

But no Air Force firefighter has ever won this distinction because Soldiers typically represent their own service. With the first-ever participation by joint installations in the 2012 competition, however, DOD opened the door to cross-branch eligibilty and chances to steal each other’s shows. In entry packages submitted by supervisors, bullet statements highlight the nominees’ accomplishments from the previous year and provide examples of superior job performance, tactical competency, leadership, initiative and resourcefulness.

One of Soto’s bullets details how he led firefighters into a kitchen fire at a JBLM home while controlling the hose nozzle. But despite a long list of achievements, Soto never imagined achieving recognition from an entire service component.

“I was surprised,” Soto said. “I never pictured myself going that far.”

But the Airman won’t be letting anything go to his head, no matter how far he goes in the competition. “I’m just going to continue to do my job and live up to the Air Force values,” he said. “That’s what got me here.”