Dearborn Firefighter Set to Return to Afghanistan

Dearborn firefighter Ryan Darnell

For Ryan Darnell, service above self is a way of life. Even if that means his life is in constant motion.

He is both a Dearborn firefighter and a member of the elite U.S. Air Force Pararescue team, with previous assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Having just come home in September, he is returning to Afghanistan in late December for his third deployment in a zone of conflict.

His two lives parallel each other for drama, strength and heroism, and he keeps a positive outlook about the good he is able to do because of both of his life-saving professions.

“The two jobs I do marry up beautifully. There’s a lot of commonality. I hope my experience will encourage other young people to serve their community and country,” he said.

Darnell is one of several dedicated Dearborn employees who serve both their community and their country. Also on active duty and serving in Afghanistan is Fire Lt. Alex Zawinsky. In addition, on military reserve duty is Lt. Paul McKeever and firefighters Mark Gosbeth and Brian Keith.

Darnell, an eight-year veteran of the Dearborn Fire Department and a 13-year veteran of the Air Force, found out in mid-November he is returning to Afghanistan after just three months being home and back on assignment with the city.

He’s been active duty, reserve and National Guard and is currently assigned to the Air National Guard out of Louisville, Kentucky.

He served a three-month tour in Iraq as a firefighter before becoming a Pararescue Jumper. He then served a four-month tour in Afghanistan as a Pararescue Jumper.

Dearborn Fire Chief Richard Miller says, “The motto of Air Force Pararesecue is ‘That others may live.’ It is a fitting place for a very dedicated and motivated husband, father and firefighter.”

As a Dearborn firefighter, Darnell has gone on countless medical emergencies, including auto extractions.

“Because of my training, I’ve been able to be cool under pressure. I can step back and look at the situation more clearly. That’s thanks in great part to our officers here. The scope of our practice in Dearborn is great. Then to take that experience to a hostile environment, you operate at another level,” he said.

Darnell is both a Dearborn firefighter and a member of the elite U.S. Air Force Pararescue team, with previous assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Now with combat experience, caring for people who were mortally or critically wounded, I can look at patients everywhere with more confidence. I know I will be able to work to the best of my abilities whether it’s a cardiac arrest, a large percentage burn or a gun shot wound,” he said.

“It has increased my confidence and competence exponentially,” he said.

Pararescue is the Department of Defense’s only combat–oriented rescue entity. PJs, as they’re called, deploy around the world via air, land and sea to extract, treat, stabilize and evacuate injured personnel.

Darnell says of these special operation units, “It doesn’t matter how we get to a scene, we just get there.”

Missions take place in austere and non-permissive environments. Rescues take place everywhere – from the top of a mountain to the depths of an ocean — and include emergencies from a burst appendix to a gunshot wound. And all this takes place under the threat of enemy fire.

In Afghanistan, Darnell used his skills to rescue U.S. military, Afghan military, coalition forces, local civilians and hostile combatants.

To accomplish these missions, Pararescue team members are among the most highly trained emergency trauma specialists in the U.S. military and they must earn and maintain an emergency medical technician combat paramedic qualification.

Among other skills, they must also be accomplished in swimming, scuba diving, basic airborne, HALO (High Altitude-Low Opening) parachuting at sky dive altitudes, rope rescue, and confined space and mountain rescue. They must also be trained to operate ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) and small boats.

Darnell is happy for this time at home and grateful for what he’s learned.

“With the training, we get to rescue someone from a confined space. Those same skills can be used to rescue a window washer at one of the city high rises,” he said.

Ryan and his wife, Sarah, are the proud parents of Natalie, their one-year-old daughter.

“The greatest thing I’ve got going for me is my wonderful family,” he said. “I’ve put my wife through more than she should have to endure, the training, the leaving on a regular basis. I couldn’t do what I do without her,” he said.

“If there’s one take-away for families, it really helps military members to know that folks back home are supportive of our loved ones,” he said.

“And for me, the level of support to the military here in Dearborn is second to none. To be able to live these two lives at the same time is tremendous.” welcomes your views and encourages lively -- but civil -- discussions. Comments are unedited, but submissions reported as abusive may be removed.

7 Responses to “Dearborn Firefighter Set to Return to Afghanistan”

  1. Dearborn Observer says:

    I salute Mr. Ryan Darnell and his family for their sacrifices for our country. Some oppose our being in Afghanistan, but no one can deny the individual bravery and committment that Mr. Darnell and his fellow soldiers possess. God bless you and your family, Mr. Darnell, and may you come home safely to them.

  2. Kevin Pal says:

    God bless Firefighter/Airman Darnell and his family!

  3. Michael D. Albano says:

    Ryan Darnell’s sacrifices should make us proud in that he risks life and limb at home and overseas helping others at a time in America where many people are more self-interested. They don’t make them any finer than Mr. Darnell.

  4. cloe says:

    God protect all of our men and women in the armed services and take care of their families while they are serving their country.

  5. Dave Bowman says:

    Thank you Ryan!

  6. Alex says:

    God bless this man for serving our local community and our country.

  7. justasking says:

    Whoever produces the CDTV puff pieces about goings on in the city, city council members, et all, should put together a piece about Mr. Darnell. He exemplifies everything that is right about public service. God bless he and his family.