WPAFB fire chief looks back on 27-year career upon retirement

  • Published
  • By Darrius Parker
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Fire Chief Jacob King retired after 27 years working for the Air Force as a civil service employee.

“Chief King has been an indispensable part of the Wright Patt Fire Department and 788 CES for 27 years,” said Maj. Nathan Thomsen, 788th Civil Engineering Squadron Commander. “He sets the example as a leader who puts people and the mission first, and has initiated much of the recent innovation and technology improvements within the Department, leading to quicker response times and saved lives.”

King was responsible for providing fire and emergency services to one of the world’s largest Air Force installations and its community partners. He ensured all WPAFB firefighters met or exceeded the training and certification requirements of the Air Force, Department of Defense and National Fire Protection Association.

The chief also responded to major fire and hazardous-material emergencies, filling the role of incident commander or supporting scene management. As needed, he served as Fire Department representative in WPAFB’s Emergency Operations Center.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “I had great leaders at the time of my selection for the fire chief position that saw value in what I could bring to the table and how I could lead the Fire Department.

“It was a very large responsibility that I took on for the installation, each department member, and the trust that I would bring them home after each shift. It is easier to reduce the weight of the responsibility by surrounding myself with great people, great firefighters and establishing great relationships, not only with our community but with all of the firefighters that I work with on a daily basis.”

Born to serve

King grew up in Arkansas with the willingness and motivation to protect others.

When he was 12, his house’s chimney caught on fire. Without hesitation, King quickly grabbed a bucket of water and climbed the roof of his two-story house to pour it down the chimney and put the fire out.

At that moment, his mother knew he was destined to be a fireman, King recalled.

“I have always been driven to be a firefighter,” he said. “It was meant to be, and I felt as if that was my purpose in life, so I never looked back.”

After graduating from Berryville High School in 1992, he enlisted in the Air National Guard as a fire protection specialist assigned to the 188th Air National Guard Base, Fort Smith Arkansas, and later transitioned to an aerospace medical evacuation technician job with the 445th Airlift Wing. He chose to leave the Air National Guard in 1998, but then discovered another opportunity for federal firefighting.

Service at Wright-Patt

During his time in the Air National Guard, King was temporarily assigned to the 88th Civil Engineer Directorate in 1996 as a civilian so he could backfill multiple military firefighters being deployed for long durations.

Once he separated from the Air National Guard, he was then converted to a full-time civilian employee.

Through the years in Wright-Patt’s Fire Department, King was promoted through the ranks, holding positions as a lieutenant, captain, fire protection inspector, district chief, assistant chief of operations and ultimately fire chief, which he held for over 13 years.

“I’ve been the fire chief since 2009, which is too long in that position,” he said. “I need to transition out because my biggest fear is that I will stifle innovation and growth of the department because I’m the same person.

“We have to have new perspectives and new ideas, and that will only come with new people taking on that role. I want the department to keep growing by moving the needle towards maximum achievement.”

Notable career moments

King’s time with the WPAFB Fire Department has been nothing short of memorable and stellar.

He was given opportunities to work with organizations such as the Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Marshals, Department of Agriculture, local fire departments and law enforcement agencies, U.S. Army, Army Special Forces Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and Air Force Research Laboratory.

He earned numerous Department of Defense honors for performance and outstanding service, including: the Air Force Command Civilian Award for Valor, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Joint Civilian Service Commendation Medal, Army Commander’s Award for Civilian Service and NATO Service Award.

At the retirement ceremony, King was presented with multiple awards and certificates. Those included a certificate of service for his 27-year civilian career; the Air Force Outstanding Civilian Career Service Award Medal for exhibiting significant achievements, leadership, competence and notable impact upon the Air Force mission throughout his career; an achievement award in recognition of his distinguished performance as installation fire chief; and an official certificate from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine for his service to the Air Force.

“Chief King has been instrumental in pursuing technology upgrades to assist the WPAFB Fire Department in achieving its mission,” said Scott Vincent, 88th Civil Engineer Group director. “Examples include a virtual reality fire-training system, underwater drone technology to assist with search-and-rescue efforts, and wearable tech that allows the incident commander to have real-time knowledge of responder location and physical status.”

From 2014 to 2017 King deployed to Afghanistan for 29 months to take on the role of fire chief for all U.S. forces. He also directed all NATO Fire and Emergency Services contracts in the country. Along with responding to numerous fire locations to assist with mitigation and investigations for cause and origin, he was asked to develop the first Fire and Disaster Response Plan as adviser to the ministers of defense and interior. In this plan, he developed the position description, model of advising and framework for developing agreements between intercountry agencies to support the entire Nation.

Looking back, King emphasized it was never about the awards. It was always about the people and community he and the Fire Department served.

“The foundation of the Fire Department resides in the idea that it’s not about any of us firefighters, but it’s about the community and those who are in need of our help,” he said. “I love being a firefighter because that next person that I am able to potentially save can do something great in this world or be the president someday.

“I have that thought for every interaction I have with someone who’s having an emergency or problem. … Maybe I can be someone’s positive influence, or I can save their life.”

Installation leaders praised King’s determination to better others around him in order to advance Wright-Patt’s mission.    

“Chief is an unwavering supporter of his staff,” Vincent said. “He encourages individual and team development. 

“He stresses a work-life balance for his firefighters, and he is a huge asset in building community partnerships through our 150-plus mutual-aid agreements, as well as joint training with local fire departments.”

The transition

King reminisced about the moments and time shared with other firefighters, as well as the ability to teach them as much knowledge as possible before his departure.

“The Fire Department here on the installation is a family,” he said. “We still have gatherings, which include numerous previous retirees. Even though this is retirement for myself, this isn’t the end because of the relationships I’ll still have.”

As he departs, King is fully confident his team will step up and maintain the WPAFB Fire Department’s commitment to excellence.

“I got to work with the brightest, best and most talented people in the entire fire service and the Air Force,” he said. “Everyone on this installation can sleep well at night knowing that if they have a problem, they’re going to be there in less than five minutes and will solve the problem.

“You are always our No. 1 priority, and we have the most highly trained, certified and qualified personnel coming to help you.”

The future

Throughout his career, King obtained over 30 DOD fire and emergency certifications and was also an instructor for courses including HAZMAT technician, HAZMAT incident commander, incident command system 300, ICS 400, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, first aid, pediatric advance life support, advanced cardiac life support and animal first aid.

He also assists and instructs local paramedics during real-time emergencies. The retiring fire chief didn’t specify his future plans but said people could see him in the back of a local ambulance helping save lives.

“I plan to support my local community as much as I possibly can, as well as enjoy the extra time with my family,” he said. 

Base leaders said King constantly found ways to provide a helping hand, which made a lasting impact on the installation and community.

“Ten years from now, I only hope that people say I made things better for everyone,” King said. “I am extremely ecstatic for the opportunities that have been provided to me and my family by working here and to be able to work till retirement eligibility.

“I hope to take my knowledge and experiences that I have received and transition those to the community that I live in to help protect them and provide that sense of community there or wherever I live.”