Gearhart men take their firefighting skills to IraqGEARHART - Former Gearhart firefighter Joey Daniels went to Iraq as a civilian contractor for a year "for the experience of a lifetime and for the money and excitement," he reported by e-mail from Balad, Iraq. Shortly after sending the e-mail, he had to go to a bunker because of incoming mortar fire.

According to Gearhart Fire Chief Bill Eddy, Daniels also reported having to wear a bulletproof vest for three days straight.

Daniels, 26, said he has been at the highest level of alert from Sept. 13 to Tuesday, which he was told had not happened since President Bush declared the war ended.

"My company will eventually take over all firefighting operations in the country," Daniels said. "If we cannot get it done, it won't get done. I have no doubt that the guys I work with, who are from all over the country and many levels of training and experience, can get anything they give us."

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Gearhart firefighter Joey Daniels worked in Iraq for a year as a civilian contractor.Daniels is based at Camp Anaconda, the biggest airfield in the theater, he protects airplanes as well as structures. He said he works 12-hour shifts every day with no vacations, and because the firefighters are still waiting for most of their equipment, he has sandbagged and done construction.

Randy Como Jr., 28, another Gearhart firefighter, is leaving for training Oct. 11 to go to Iraq.

"It just seemed like a great opportunity," Como said. "It was actually just something on a whim."

Como said he applied on www.firehouse.com with Wackenhut Services, which he said handles the civilian contractors for all out-of-country firefighting.

"Obviously you've got people saying you're crazy," Como said. "They're not you, though. ... I'm still young, I've got decent firefighting credentials, I'm not married with kids, I don't have a house."

He said he is looking forward to the challenge, and will have a chance to get certifications in Iraq that will help him get a job in the United States later.

"'I went to Iraq' on the resume looks pretty good," he said. "Plus the money's pretty good."

The money the firefighters earn is tax-free.

Como said he hopes to be in the same station as Daniels. The two firefighters, who both graduated from Seaside High School, have been friends for most of their lives, and it was Daniels who convinced Como to join the fire department.

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"Every day I get a little more antsy," says Randy Como Jr."Joey really wanted to do it, but he didn't want to do it alone," Como said. "Shut off the lights and put a blindfold on and crawl around on your hands and knees with a hose in your hand, that's what firefighting is like, and you sound like Darth Vader the whole time."

Como's first fire was a practice fire. The new firefighters were assigned to watch and see how fires burn. Como said everyone was in such a trance that the senior firefighters had to kick them to get them to use the hoses.

"If you don't concentrate on what you've got to do, you can get lost in watching it," Como said. "It's definitely an adrenaline rush."

Como said he tries to get onto the first truck so he will get to the fire first.

"I still get excited when the pager goes off," Como said. "The hair still stands up on the back of your neck."

Both Como and Daniels said there have been talks about the firefighters traveling outside the base to fight fires, something neither firefighter wants to do.

"We are protesting that and it won't happen!" Daniels said. "We are all in danger of insurgents."

However, both said they are not worried about being kidnapped.

"I'm as safe as anybody can be over there," Como said. "I would be fearful of that happening, but I don't really think about it."

The firefighters get two leaves of 14 days for rest and relaxation.

"You can try and get back some of your sanity," said Como, who is thinking of vacationing in Australia for his second leave. "They fly you out of Iraq to where you want to go."

Daniels comes home for his first leave Dec. 23 to Jan. 1.

"Since we are not allowed any alcohol at all, I am looking forward to a couple of margaritas." he said. "And seeing all of my fellow firefighters and family and friends."

Como said he will miss his friends at the fire department, as well as his parents, snowboarding and softball. He said he is hoping not to miss the rain.

"A fire department is like a family," he said.

Eddy said Daniels and Como are leaving a hole in the department, especially Daniels, the cadet and recruit training officer. He had intended for Como to take Daniels' position until he learned Como was going to Iraq too.

"Two big chunks are getting taken out, especially for a small department like this," Eddy said.

Both Como and Daniels have attended the National Fire Academy in Maryland as well as Clatsop Community College. They have been in the Gearhart department for nine years.

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