GOLDSBORO, N.C. - For most people, it is human nature to run away from fires, survival of the fittest demands it. But firefighters don't turn their backs; they battle the fire head on.
With that same mentality, retired Master Sgt. Eric Harper (left), 4th Civil Engineer Squadron lead fire inspector, tackles fires from a different perspective: putting them out before they even begin.
For 22 years, Harper was a firefighter in the Air Force, serving his final 15 years at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Even as a young airman, his attitude and drive to succeed stood out.
Harper remembers being called into the fire chief's office soon after arriving to his first duty station. Thinking he was in trouble, he walked in the doors prepared to be yelled at, though he didn't know why. To his surprise, the chief actually called him into the office to commend him for his work ethic and dedication to learning his job, awarding him a plaque, which Harper said meant a lot to him that early in his career.
“Receiving the plaque from Chief Ball was huge because it made me feel like a part of a team,” Harper explained. “As a young airman in a completely different country, it was Chief Ball who played a significant role in making my Air Force career a success.”
The same commitment to excellence followed him throughout his military career as he rose through the ranks and held the title of assistant chief of operations.
However, his career didn't stop there. After more than two decades of devoted service to extinguishing fires, Harper set his sights on another key element in fire safety: prevention.
Fire prevention and safety has been a passion that Harper said pushed him to succeed and will always be a flame he can never put out.
As the 4th CES's lead fire inspector, Harper is responsible for ensuring the safety of all airmen and their families on base. On a day-to-day basis, he conducts building inspections base-wide. He also provides safety briefings to new base housing candidates before they are allowed to move in.
According to Harper, awareness is the most important factor in fire prevention and keeping people safe.
“Fire safety is not just a one week event; it is an attitude that should be present every day, in every situation and everywhere you go,” Harper said. “I have seen the damage and destruction fire causes; I have seen people lose everything to fire.”
Promoting awareness isn't the only thing that makes him stand out. Sean Quinby, 4th CES fire chief, said Harper's friendly personality and dedication to every fine detail help him reach people on a different level.
"Harper has worked in the fire prevention office here for more than a dozen years,” Quinby said. “In that time, he has personally interacted with every organization on base promoting fire safety. He literally knows more people in the Seymour Johnson community than anyone I've ever met. Those connections and those relationships he has fostered are pivotal to getting out our fire prevention message. And the end result - he saves lives."
As a senior leader at the fire department, Harper said he is always willing to lend a helping hand and share his knowledge with anyone, from new airmen just arriving on base to veterans in need of assistance.
"Still being around the military keeps me young,” he explained. “It's fun to see the transition of the new airmen coming in and people moving up. It's a good feeling knowing that the Air Force is taken care of and I get a sense of pride seeing that."
Article and photo by USAF Airman 1st Class Brittain Crolley
Provided through DVIDS
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