Tested by fire, chief is ready for battle

By Justin Boron

Ricky Baker wears two different uniforms. One tan and camouflaged and one dark blue with a badge on it.

Both have attracted danger and warranted heroism.

In his almost 25-year career with the Atlanta Fire Department, Baker, 47, has ascended the ranks from driver to battalion chief of the aviation division at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

But he has had another job this whole time. One he calls the other one-third of his life: his service in the Army National Guard.

Baker traded his fired department blues this week for tan fatigues more suitable for the Iraqi desert as he prepares to spend the next year and half fighting a war for the people he has already served once as a firefighter.

But he won't be leaving the fire department for good. Baker said he is confident he would be talking to his soon-to-be wife Virgia Williams, son Ricky Jr., and comrades again.

Close to 2,000 national guardsman of 48th Brigade shipped out in phases this week to begin training in Fort Stewart near Savannah and Fort Gordon near Augusta for their time in Iraq.

Baker will be working in the armor division "looking out for the tanks" as he puts it. Riding in a humvee ahead of a line of armored vehicles, he will survey the area, watching for obstacles and possible enemies.

At a going away party held last week, his firefighters at the airport said good-bye and thanked him for his leadership.

Apparatus driver Mike Anderson, who is at the beginning of his career, said Baker personally helped him through training.

"He helped me a lot in school. He got me in the right classes," said Anderson, 32. "He looks out for the young and coming-up firefighters."

The appreciation for his endearing attitude could be seen in an oversized going away card his battalion presented him.

Their signatures surrounded a drawing of Yogi the Bear, dressed in a chief's uniform.

"I guess they think I look like some big friendly bear," Baker said.

One of the airport division's captains, Tom Scogin, 47, came up the ranks with Baker and called him a "real dynamo."

Chief of Airport Training Charles Long, 54, said in firefighter terms, the bestowal of a "dynamo" title is inexplicably honorable.

Struggling to find the words, he said, "It means gung ho, lets just leave it at that."

Baker said his propensity to help others pushed him to join the National Guard because he knew they helped people during national disasters, and his eagerness to work in public safety grew from there.

The path to his job as chief was not an easy one, he said.

There was the knee-breaking work of climbing up and down a ladder and running from house to house in Atlanta that led up to his position at the airport, Baker said.

A wind-driven fire spreading from house to house in Cabbagetown left Baker breathless early in his career and was put out when a fire truck called "The Squirt" arrived.

Although wearisome, he said the day inspired him to become a driver, and he eventually escalated up the ranks to battalion chief.

Working at the airport for the past three years, Baker said he has developed a passion for the booming jets that fly over his office in Station 35 everyday.

They are one of the memories he said he will take to Iraq as a reminder of the people awaiting his safe return.

"I'm starting to really love airplanes," Baker said.