Fighting fires as father and son

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kasabyan Musal
  • Nellis AFB Public Affairs
As Father's Day approaches, one father and son team at Nellis Air Force Base won't have to spend the holiday too far apart.

Ed Venable, an assistant fire chief, and his son, Staff Sgt. Joshua Venable, an airborne firefighter, said they are happy to be in the same fire department because it allows them to have more time together.

Mr. Venable enlisted in the Air Force in July 1977, because he felt that college wasn't right for him and he didn't want to stay in Ohio. However, being a firefighter was not his first choice as a career field. He came in under general enlistment and, while firefighter was his fifth choice, it is one he has never regretted.

Mr. Venable graduated from the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, in November 1977, and his first assignment was to King Salmon Air Station, Alaska. Nellis was actually his second assignment, and his son Joshua and daughter Amy were born here.

After 20 years of service, Mr. Venable retired in August 1997 at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. He then took an open position as assistant chief of training at Nellis, though he was required to wait six months prior to starting work as a civilian. He began work with the Nellis fire department Feb. 1, 1998, and has been here for the last 10 years.

Sergeant Venable enlisted in May 2000, for some of the same reasons as his father. Though he had originally wanted to be a pilot and thought about applying to the Air Force Academy, he felt, like his father, that college wasn't for him. However, his family had a tradition of military service, and he had always wanted to join the Air Force, so he enlisted. Sergeant Venable now says that was the best decision he could have made.

Unlike his dad, firefighting was Sergeant Venable's first choice as a career field, and he graduated from the fire academy at Goodfellow in October 2000. He chose to become a firefighter because he felt that he knew what to expect, and his dad would always be there to give him advice. That's exactly what happened.

"He's guided me through my career and helped me along even before I ever started," Sergeant Venable said, adding that his father has been there to answer questions since he arrived at his first duty station in Germany.

When he got the opportunity four years ago, Sergeant Venable applied for a special duty assignment as an airborne firefighter at Nellis, in part to be able to work with his father. Las Vegas was also appealing because he was born here and had spent some time here growing up. Being here means he can spend time with some of his siblings and see big events in their lives like high school graduations.

Sergeant Venable said the location is also good for his wife, because being a firefighter's wife, in addition to being a military spouse, can be difficult. The schedule firefighters work is very demanding, but being here means his wife can easily get help and advice from her mother-in-law, who is very familiar with this way of life.

Being stationed together also gives Sergeant Venable and his father a chance to do things they enjoy doing with each other. One example of this is playing softball together for the 99th Civil Engineer Squadron team. Sergeant Venable said he remembers watching his dad play when he was younger and how he always wanted to play with him, and now he gets that opportunity. The two even played for a team downtown for a while with Sergeant Venable's younger brother, Trey.

"We have gotten to enjoy a lot of things together that most fathers and sons don't get to at this age," Mr. Venable said.

Sergeant Venable added that he is glad he gets to spend more time with his dad than he used to and that his dad gets to see his granddaughter. Both say the opportunity to be at the same department has brought them closer as father and son.

This father and son have had some interesting ways in which their careers have crossed paths prior to being assigned to the same department. When Sergeant Venable first arrived at Goodfellow for the basic firefighter course, his dad was also at the fire academy for a hazardous materials train-the-trainer course, so for the first three weeks of his son's tech school, Mr. Venable was able to check up on his son's progress.

In turn, Sergeant Venable has encountered several people who had previously worked with his father. While in Germany as an Airman, the younger Venable worked with a technical sergeant who had worked with Mr. Venable as an Airman when Mr. Venable was a technical sergeant stationed in Germany. The father and son also graduated from the same leadership school. Mr. Venable graduated from the Noncommissioned Officer Leadership School at Nellis in 1983. The school was later renamed the Airman Leadership School; Sergeant Venable graduated from the school in 2006.

For Sergeant Venable, the experience has allowed him to learn valuable lessons from his father. One thing he has tried to learn from his father is his management style. Mr. Venable said that his management philosophy is to "surround yourself with good people and let the people do the job." and Sergeant Venable said, as he progresses in rank and moves more to the management areas of the job, he will take the lessons he has learned from his father and use them with his own Airmen.

The father and son team are on opposite shifts, and because each chief runs their shift differently, being able to observe how Mr. Venable runs the opposite shift is an opportunity for Sergeant Venable to see an additional management perspective.

"If I have a problem, as a new dad, a husband, a firefighter or a supervisor, Dad has probably already been through it and can give me advice," Sergeant Venable said.

Mr. Venable said the best thing about the experience has been watching his son's career progression, as well as watching him grow as a man, a husband, and a father, and being able to give him guidance in things like supervising Airmen and what things he should watch out for in the job.

"We never talked about him being a firefighter, but when your oldest son follows in your footsteps, it's always a proud moment," Mr. Venable said. "He's better than I was at his age."