Fort Stewart Fire Department Station Chief James H. Ashdown joined the family business 26 years ago. His brother, nephew, wife and sons also are carrying on the Ashdown firefighting tradition.
“I was still in high school when I started in the fire service,” Ashdown said. “I was a volunteer firefighter for Lake George.”
Ashdown’s father, the late James D. Ashdown, was a Fort Stewart firefighter.
“Dad passed away in 1988 and I came on board (Fort Stewart Fire Department) in 1989,” he said.
Ashdown’s brother is a firefighter in Virginia; his nephew “is an aspiring firefighter;” his wife, Samantha Ashdown, is the Lake George fire chief; and their sons J.R., 24, and Chris, 22, are volunteer firefighters for the Lake George Volunteer Fire Department.
“My wife is in better shape than I am,” Ashdown admitted with a smile. “Anybody can do the job. It’s a matter of wanting in your heart to do it.”
Ashdown also serves the civilian population in Liberty County through his position as Liberty County fire coordinator. He fights fires, trains and mentors other firefighters and investigates the causes of fires.
“Every day that I’m off from Fort Stewart I’m employed by Liberty County,” he said.
Still, Ashdown said he was surprised when he was named the 2010 Regional Department of Defense Fire Officer of the Year. The Fort Stewart fire station chief competed for the honor with fire officers from nine military installations across the Southeast.
“I didn’t know they were going to put the application in,” he said. Ashdown said he knew the department would apply for Fire Prevention Program of the Year and Fire Station of the Year, but he didn’t expect to receive an individual award. According to Ashdown, his success is to be shared.
“Without proper people above me and below me, I wouldn’t have gotten this award,” he said.
Ashdown credits his supervisor, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Fire Chief Donald Hollis, and the department’s assistant chiefs for pushing him to excel. Hollis submitted Ashdown’s award application.
Hollis highlighted Ashdown’s accomplishments, including the role he played in the hostage incident at Winn Army Community Hospital last fall, as lead investigator on the Newman Fitness Center fire and for leading the team that extinguished a multiple-house fire, saving lives and property.
“We’re a team,” Hollis said. “Most of the guys here love what they do. Who else would run into a burning building? Most people would run the other way.”
Fort Stewart’s fire department handles on average 14-15 emergencies a day from grass fires to fire alarms to car wrecks, according to Hollis.
“It just depends on what needs to be done,” he said. “It seems we usually get calls during meal time. Mostly during lunch and dinner and we often don’t get through breakfast.”
Hollis and Ashdown will travel to Atlanta in August, where Ashdown will receive his award during an annual fire chiefs training conference.
“We will know in August if he wins the (DOD-wide) award,” Hollis said.
“Chief Ashdown is an excellent leader and firefighter who serves our soldiers, families, Army civilians and others selflessly every day,” Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield garrison commander Col. Kevin Milton said. “The DOD award recognizes those qualities and much more in Chief Ashdown. I couldn’t be more pleased to have him serving here at Stewart-Hunter.”
Ashdown is certified at a level 4, which is the highest certification level for a fire officer. Hollis said firefighters go through more intense certification now than in years past. Firefighters must be designated “experts” in diverse areas, from working natural disasters to potentially explosive situations like entering crack houses, he said.
Ashdown said he hopes to become a fire chief in the next 15 years.
“His immediate next goal would be to make assistant fire chief,” Hollis said knowingly. “His ultimate goal would be chief.”