Warner outside the fire station at Tan Sun Nhut Air Base, Vietnam, in 1970. (Courtesy of Air Force)
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"The Desire to Serve, the Ability to Perform, and the Courage to Act."
Most airmen may not know this is the Air Force fire protection motto, or that Donald W. Warner fathered the idea. But the outgoing Air Force fire chief considers it one of his major accomplishments. He retired Dec. 29 after more than 45 years of military and civilian service, and says firefighting has been the dominant theme behind his career.
"When I enlisted in 1965, the Air Force chose the firefighting career field for me," Warner said in an Air Force news release.
"They did a good job because I have loved it. I can't think of anything else I would have rather done."
Warner retired from the Air Force as a chief master sergeant in 1985, but returned in January 1987 to Air Force Fire Emergency Services in a civilian capacity as the command master chief at Air Force Reserve Command, he said in an interview with Air Force Times.
In December 2001, Warner was selected as Air Force fire chief at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., where he remained until his retirement.
In overseeing Air Force fire department operations and about 10,000 airmen and civilian firefighters, Warner explained, the career field has evolved, giving more responsibilities to the task force.
"When I came in, we were almost exclusively crash-response firefighters. Now we are an all-hazards response force," he said.
One of the biggest advancements Warner enacted, in consort with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Tyndall, was the development of ultra-high pressure firefighting technology, which will transform the way Air Force firefighters respond to crashes and will eventually change civil firefighting, as well, Warner said.
"With ultra-high pressure, we can put out fires using significantly less ... firefighting agent and sustain our firefighting operations longer," he said.
"With conventional vehicles, we have about three minutes of firefighting time. UHP gives us 3½ times that."
Aside from technical firefighting advances, one personal achievement Warner said he will cherish was garnering recognition for the military firefighters added to the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md.
"The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation went back and retroactively memorialized all DoD firefighters who had died in the line of duty since 1983. We have 13 on the memorial now, including an airman who was killed in the line of duty last year," he said.
Warner said he's forever grateful for the times he was able to save lives, but that it was very emotional when someone didn't make it.
"Those lives aren't just numbers. It's a life that was lost," he said.
Warner said that in retirement he is looking forward to volunteering for his community and his church in Panama City, Fla., where he lives.