Providing fire safety education and training thousands of miles away and in a completely different climate, former Suwannee County Public Safety Director Charlie Conner says hello.
Conner was deployed to Afghanistan in the spring to serve as a civilian contractor providing fire safety inspections and education to both military and civilians. He is currently signed on for a year, but hopes to serve a minimum of three years. Conner said he works 12-hour days, seven days a week.
“Fire safety is a real concern here. I'm sure you can understand that there is not much water here and most smaller camps don’t have dedicated fire companies, so prevention is top priority,” Conner wrote in an email interview. “We have suffered several fire deaths in the country. The amount of effort that we put into fire safety is amazing.”
He sent an email to the Suwannee Democrat to share his experience with the residents of Suwannee County. Conner left as head of Suwannee County Fire/Rescue on May 18. He worked for SCFR since 2006. He has been in the fire/rescue service for more than 26 years.
“For the most part life here is a routine, most people call it ‘Ground Hog Day’, like the movie, because everyday is the same routine. When I first arrived I kind of thought ‘what the heck am I doing here’, because words really can’t describe the situation,” said Conner. “There is so much activity that is going on all at the same time.”
Conner said he is living in a structure with six other people. The housing took him a while to get used to, since he said the closets, bathrooms and showers are 1,500 feet away from where he sleeps. The weather there is different from Florida as well. He said it is either really hot or really cold. The locations he is stationed at also provide three meals per day, which he said “the food is awesome”.
Conner said he travels from location to location and some of the areas there is more military activity or “hot spots” than others.
“Depending on your location in the country and where the hot spots are located, determines how much action you see,” said Conner. “As of this writing, I'm at a small Forward Operating Base located in the Helmand River Valley which is an active location. The camp is home to the Special Forces. The Helmand Province is known as one of the hot spots at this time. I take great pride in what I do here, serving our military and helping to keep them safe. I also enjoy spending time talking with our troops.”
Before Conner left, he had to take additional training to prepare for life overseas, such as survival education and of course, what to expect when he arrived.
Although his work schedule is demanding, Conner said he finds time to read. He said he started reading “The New Testament” and “Huckleberry Finn”. “There is no comparison between here and home. We as a nation are so blessed by God the Father,” Conner wrote. “I have always asked for the citizens of Suwannee County to pray for myself and our fire/rescue service. I still ask that, but also, please pray for our men and women in the armed forces and a quick resolution to this war.”