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Eglin Airman’s simple idea could save lives

2021 AFIMSC Innovation Rodeo finalist spotlight graphic

Staff Sgt. Eric Gonzalez, extinguisher maintenance manager for the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, is a finalist for the 2021 Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Innovation Rodeo. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Jim Martinez)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – Staff Sgt. Eric Gonzalez, extinguisher maintenance manager for the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, wants to save lives.

The Roanoke, Virginia, native believes his idea – picked as one of eight finalists for the 2021 Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center’s Innovation Rodeo – will do just that. 

The idea, called Agility for Firemen, involves switching from gas-powered to electric tools.

“This idea is something I truly believe will make work easier for firefighters and inevitably make it easier to help save lives,” Gonzalez said.

We asked Gonzalez more about his idea and how it can save lives:

Q:  What are your primary duty responsibilities?
A: I belong to the fire prevention division at Eglin. I manage the fire extinguisher program by inspecting and maintaining extinguishers on the flightline and in buildings that protect $8 billion in research, development and testing equipment. I also teach fire extinguisher classes to 136 airport employees who belong to the local commercial airport attached to Eglin, ensuring they are Federal Aviation Administration-certified to operate its 18,000 flights carrying two million passengers, which represents a $418 million economic impact for the community. It’s my responsibility to make sure my Airmen are taken care of and mission ready.

Q: Tell us more about Agility for Firemen.
A: The idea to switch to electric-powered tools is an innovation that has been researched, developed, tested and evaluated by the fire and emergency services flight at Eglin. For example, we switched to using electric fans, chainsaws, glass cutters and fire rescue saws. We also upgraded our jaws of life (cutters, ram and spreaders) to e-hydraulics.

Q:  How will it help firefighters and save lives?
A: Our innovation solves lots of problems. It lessens strain on firefighters by lowering equipment weight; saves on fuel costs while helping the environment; and lowers the sound of equipment which can reduce hearing loss. It also makes it easier and faster to give treatment, therefore increasing the probability of saving lives.

Q:  How will your idea help the Air Force deliver installation and mission support capabilities, improve installations or support families in a better way?
A: By changing tools over to electric, we can operate easier and faster to better serve Airmen and their families on the installation or down range. 

Q:  How did you come up with your idea?
A: By learning about technological advances. As firefighters, we push all aspects of equipment and tactics to become faster and more efficient. There is now newer technology - such as lithium-ion batteries - available that enable us to do that, work more efficiently and for longer periods of time without error. 

Q:  Why do you think it’s important for the Air Force to consider innovative solutions and ideas for the base of the future?
A: We live in ever-changing environments. It is important that Airmen are provided with the finest equipment and tools available, so we can provide the best service. Without that, we would not be the world’s greatest Air Force. 

Q:  How does it feel to be selected as a finalist for the 2021 Innovation Rodeo?
A: It is an amazing accomplishment.

Q:  What are you hoping to gain from the experience?
A: I’m hoping to gain experience. As a staff sergeant, I want to take this opportunity to improve my leadership and communication skills so I can better communicate with my Airmen and leadership. 

Q:  Is there anything else you would like to add?
 A: Thanks to the Air Force for giving me this opportunity. It is greatly appreciated.