08 August 2017

Chief Stewart L. Smith, assistant chief of operations for the Fort Detrick Fire Department receives the 2016 Army Lifetime Achievement Award for his dedicated service. Photo by Nick Minecci, USAG Public Affairs
Fort Detrick Firefighter Receives Army Lifetime Achievement Award
Nick Minecci, USAG Public Affairs
For more than three decades, Chief Stewart L. Smith, assistant chief of operations for the Fort Detrick Fire Department, has dedicated his life to helping others. Beginning as a volunteer then going on to become a full-time firefighter, Smith has spent his life serving others. This commitment was honored recently when Smith was presented the 2016 Army Lifetime Achievement Award for his service.

"This was a really proud moment for me, it was so unexpected," said Smith. "I didn't foresee anything like this and was surprised."

Being a firefighter was always Smith's goal, and he started his journey by joining the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Department.

"I was a teenager when I started, and it was a great experience. I knew I wanted to do this full time, and my father worked for the post office and said I should look at getting a job at Fort Ritchie's fire department. He explained the pay and benefits, my father was a huge influence on me. I started applying before I even graduated high school," said Smith.

Fort Ritchie was an Army base located in Cascade, Maryland, which was closed in 1998 following the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

"It took me over a year to get on the hiring list," recalled Smith. "The procedure to apply for a government job was a lot different back then, but I never gave up."

Smith said Fort Ritchie was, "a great place to work, just wonderful. I think I was the youngest firefighter they ever hired, being only 19. It was filled with good people. I spent 15 years there."

While the pace of operations was slower at Fort Ritchie than what Smith would experience when he got to Fort Detrick, Smith said he learned a lot from his fellow firefighters.

"I remember one time someone stuffed a pillow filled with feathers in the cannon used for Revile and Retreat, and when they fired it that night during Retreat it blew feathers all over the place, all across the golf course," Smith recounted, laughing at the memory.

When Fort Ritchie closed, Smith transferred to Fort Detrick, and said it was like starting over in his career.

"It was a new place, with a new mission and much faster pace," said Smith. "Plus, Fort Detrick is unique with the biological and HAZMAT mission. Learning about dealing with [Biosafety Level] 3 and 4 was so interesting. I love to learn and this was exciting."

The quicker pace of operations also appealed to Smith, and the level of experience at Fort Detrick among the firefighters allowed him to grow.

"When Fort Detrick won Best Medium Fire Department in the Army, that was a really proud moment," noted Smith. "And, I'll tell you, it was not because of any one individual, it was because we have such a great team here."

When he is not working, Smith, who now resides in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, has his time filled with his other love, racing.

"I own Stewart Smith Racing, a 358 sprint car team. I've always been around racing and love it," said Smith.

A driver until 2010, when he had an accident and was injured, Smith said he plans on continuing with his team after he eventually retires from firefighting.

"I started working at Fort Ritchie when I was 19, and now I'm 54, so it's funny to me. I was the youngest and now I am one of the oldest in the department," Smith said.

"I am so very blessed to do this job, and to be able to meet so many different people I like and admire," continued Smith. "I'm lucky, I never have been to the point where I woke up and thought ‘I don't want to go in today' about my job. It really has been wonderful, and this award was just a proud moment for me."
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