Fire chief celebrates 50 years of service

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tara Fadenrecht
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
In the midst of an increasing American presence in the Vietnam War, he was attending community college while playing football and baseball on a scholarship. Before he finished his degree, he dropped everything and joined the U.S. Air Force.

"I knew the draft notice was coming," said retired Master Sgt. Charles Hutson Jr. "I didn't want to fight a draft notice. I felt it was my responsibility to go in, but I wanted to choose where I wanted to go, not have somebody decide for me."

Hutson, who recently retired, Dec. 31, 2014, for a second time after serving for 23 years as the 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron fire chief, began his Air Force career as an enlisted firefighter in 1963.

Although he retired, his retirement ceremony is scheduled for March 20.

Several years after enlisting, Hutson found himself stationed in Southeast Asia where he responded to one of the most memorable emergencies of his career.

His heart stopped when the call came in that a C-130 Hercules carrying more than 20 people and a full tank of fuel had crashed shortly after take-off. When he arrived to the scene, his crew extinguished the fire and remove the victims from the wreckage, he said.

"That was the first time I had seen anybody die," said Hutson. "That was pretty hard because some of them were my friends."

After 21 years in uniform, the Los Angeles native continued to follow his passion for fire and emergency services. He stayed in the career field as a civilian and eventually ended up at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., in 1992, where he quickly worked his way up to the position of fire chief.  

Hutson was part of many changes to the fire department including the design and construction of a new fire station in 1992.

"In the past, all stations were built with gang bunk rooms," he said. "We designed this station to be built with single bunk rooms. That was pretty amazing back in the early '90s."

Hutson's work on the innovative design and production of the current station may be his most lasting impact during his time at here, he said, but he is most proud of his team's hard work that earned the unit accreditation.

The fire team met more than 250 requirements to become certified by the Commission of the Fire Accreditation International and prove that McConnell's fire department was up-to-date and able to provide quality services when responding to an emergency.

"We were number 13 in the Air Force to be accredited," said Hutson. "We were 39th in the Department of Defense. I think that was one of our biggest accomplishments."

Aside from all the hard work and achievements, the retired fire chief uses only one word to sum up his favorite part about his job.

"People," he said.

Working 24-hour shifts develops a special bond between coworkers. The people in the fire department become brothers, sisters, fathers; they become a family, said Hutson.

The positive atmosphere Hutson encouraged among the members of the fire department has not gone unnoticed by those working around him.

"Chief Hutson is probably the most profound individual I have ever met," said Master Sgt. Thomas Jenkins II, 22nd CES deputy fire chief. "He's a leader of leaders. He's a huge advocate of taking care of people, knowing that if you take care of people, the mission will follow."

Hutson is retiring after more than 50 years of combined military and federal service.

"God has been really good to me and my family," he said. "Being a fire chief at McConnell has been the highlight of my career."

As for any retirement plans, he is ready to take his wife on a cruise and just relax, he said.