By Julie M. Shea
158th Fighter Wing
In November 2020, Brannon Soter was welcomed as the first civilian “Title 5” fire chief in the history of the fire department at the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard. Previously only available as an Active Guard/Reserve (AGR) role, Soter heard about this historic job opening through his chain of command.
When referring to federal technicians, Title 5 of the United States Code (U.S.C.) states that a civilian federal employee does not need to be a member of the military in order to hold a "Title 5" position, whereas Title 32 and AGR roles require a military commitment.
In this instance, the 158th Fighter Wing's Fire Department previously only had the position of fire chief as an available opportunity for certain applicants. Previously, eligible submissions were limited to uniformed military members and uniquely required those members to maintain military status as a condition of employment. With the historic change to a “Title 5” role, applicants are no longer required to maintain military status in order to become the fire chief at the Vermont Air National Guard.
Selected over a pool of other competitive applicants, Soter, born and raised in Vermont, has 19 years of experience as a member of this fire department. Although still proudly serving as a uniformed member of the VTANG, Soter now wears a different uniform to work every day.
After being in his new role for a few months, Soter spoke with the 158th Public Affairs office to discuss his role, experience and the future of the department.
Q - Can you tell us what is unique about your new role as fire chief?
A - It is the first Title 5 position that the fire department has ever had. Historically, we have always had a military (AGR) fire chief so this is definitely a huge change for the department. This change extends beyond the VTANG, the Air National Guard Fire and Emergency Services division is currently in a transition period from MCA (Master Cooperative Agreement) State employees to Title 5.
Q - What has the opportunity been like to work as a “civilian” during the week, then put on your uniform during drill weekends?
A - In a lot of ways they go hand in hand, the duties are virtually identical. I would say the main difference is that there are some tasks or projects that have to be handled while on military status. Other than that, my job does not change a whole lot from one uniform to the other.
Q - What are your general duties are as fire chief, as well as the service areas of this department?
A - My duty as the chief is taking care of the firefighters that I work for. When called upon, we have one of the most physically and mentally demanding jobs in the world. Helping to ensure that every firefighter is ready, willing, and able to professionally execute their duties so they can potentially save a life, is unquestionably the most important duty of a fire chief.
Annually, we respond to approximately 1,000 calls for service. We respond to all emergencies at the VTANG, Army Aviation, BIAP Airfield, and federal buildings on the airfield as the primary response agency. We respond as mutual aid to all of Chittenden County. We are utilized heavily in South Burlington, as we automatically respond depending on where the emergency is.
Additionally, we get calls from the surrounding departments for all types of emergencies. These can include medical calls, fires, vehicle accidents, technical rescues (ropes, confined space, specialized equipment), off-airfield aircraft incidents, hazardous materials, water supply (for rural areas), natural disasters, and just about everything else that you can imagine.
We are very fortunate to have the relationship that we do with the community. We also are extremely lucky to have long standing relationships with surrounding fire departments. The responder community is very tight-knit group.
Q - What are you most excited about going forward in this new role?
A - I am proud and excited to have the opportunity and privilege to lead such a remarkable and talented group of firefighters, and could not be more proud of the work they do locally and while deployed.