The couple that fights fires together stays together.
Brittany and Steven Thomas are volunteer firefighters serving their community, their state and their country.
A native of San Diego, California, Brittany joined the military after high school and hasn’t looked back.
“I was working three jobs and trying to pay for college, so I joined the Air Force and it’s been great,” she said.
Now stationed at McEntire Joint National Guard Base and serving in the S.C. Air National Guard, the 28-year-old West Coast transplant holds the rank of Technical Sergeant with the 169th Operations Group. Her official role is serving in the Commander’s Support Staff.
She’s also interning with the Sumter Police Department as she works to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology, having already gained experience in Crime Analysis.
She met Steven in the U.S. Air Force, “and that’s how we ended up here,” she said.
He grew up just south of Erie, Pennsylvania, in Cambridge Springs, a small-town farming community. He also joined the military right out of high school and became a U.S. Air Force Firefighter.
He’s been stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, and Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
With 17 years of active duty, he just started a new job with the S.C. Air National Guard, and holds the rank of Master Sergeant, tasked with maintaining air crew flight equipment.
His first stint as a volunteer firefighter was back in 2007 and ’08, he said, when he was stationed at Shaw and saw the solid mutual aid program between the base and the Sumter Fire Department.
“That’s how I got experienced,” he said. “I always liked that program. There’s a really good rapport with the community.”
Shaw firefighters would back up Sumter Fire Department firefighters, he said, and even though he left for Korea for a few years, he wasn’t surprised to see the same bond when he returned.
“I got plugged right in and picked up where I left off,” he said. “We loved this area so much we wanted to stay here.”
Although his wife admits to missing the San Diego weather sometimes, she fully “appreciates the rural aspect and hometown feel,” of Sumter County, S.C.
Sumter Fire Department Chief Karl Ford said nationwide, about 80 percent of the country’s fire service is comprised of volunteers, with about 20 percent being career firefighters.
“It’s the volunteers who are the heartbeat of the fire service,” he said.
They’re both assigned to Beech Creek Station 17 and have answered calls two doors down from their own house. Steven’s been volunteering about 10 years and his wife has been doing so for about a year.
“Everybody should get involved somehow and that’s my way to give back to the community,” Steven Thomas said. “It’s a good program they have here and you might end up helping your next-door neighbor.”
She decided she couldn’t sit idly by and watch Steven respond to calls, so she started taking classes last summer and finished in December.
“It takes a commitment. But being able to go out and help people – that’s really why I did it,” she said.
Coming from California, she said the fire service family has been very welcoming.
“It’s a great way to get plugged into the community,” she said. “It’s been great.”
During their free time, Steven and his daughters Taegan, 9, and Ainsley, 11, and Brittany enjoy outdoor activities like golfing, fishing, hiking and swimming.
Chief Ford said the Thomases are “a good fit” and spend a lot of time training and answering calls for service in the Beech Creek area.
“They’re valued members of our community. Volunteers are the bread and butter of our department and greatly compliment our career firefighters – you see commitment all around, and you see our full-time firefighters working hand-in-glove with our volunteers and it makes us all very proud,” he said.