After serving as a firefighter for 35 years, Wayne Williams, 62, retired from the Indianapolis Fire Department in April. Although the fire department said goodbye to one member of the Williams family, two more still remain. Williams' sons Deaun, 31, and Michael, 36, began their own careers fighting fires last year.
Deaun and Michael enrolled in the fire department largely because of Williams' service. The family's multi-generational dedication to fighting fires shows how someone's passion for their job can spread to others.
Williams said he "really didn't decide" to become a firefighter. He needed a job, his wife had family in the fire department and there were openings, so he applied. Even though he didn't expect to, Williams soon fell in love with the work. His favorite part of firefighting was driving the firetruck because he could operate a large and powerful machine while being part of closely-knit team.
"It's a lot of power and control," Williams said. "You've got three other guys you have to look out for, and on fires you have to make sure your equipment is running because of the safety of them and the safety of the people you are trying to save. It was cool."
Williams said his team was close partially because of the downtime between emergencies where firefighters would get to know each other. They bonded over shared cooking duties. His "Wayne Burgers" with fried potatoes made Williams popular at the firehouse.
"It's like one big family," Williams said. "Once you are a firefighter, you are a firefighter all over the nation. Just one big family."
Williams' passion for firefighting spread to Deaun and Michael when they were kids. Deaun remembers sitting in a firetruck as a child while Williams drove, seeing all the equipment inside and thinking his dad had the coolest job in the world. He had no qualms about sharing that belief.
"You go to school as a youngster and all your friends ask, 'What does your dad do?' and 'firefighter' is the coolest thing you can think of doing as a school-aged kid, so I got to brag a lot," Deaun said.
While Deaun knew he wanted to be a firefighter all his life, Michael discovered his passion for firefighting as an adult. For 12 years Michael had jobs such as working sales at AT&T that never felt like a potential lifelong career. He eventually decided to become a firefighter because of his dad and was surprised how much he enjoyed the work and lifestyle.
"Once I got this job, I knew this
would be the last job I was ever going to have, so that eased my mind," Michael said.
Williams is proud his sons continued in his footsteps. He still tries to share what he learned over 35 years of firefighting with Deaun and Michael whenever he can, with his biggest piece of advice being always respect the job.
"That means going in every day, doing your job, going in on time and not causing any kind of trouble," Williams said. "Just do your job and be the best firefighter you can be. There's a lot of pride in the fire department."
Because they are new Deaun and Michael are currently probationary firefighters, so they rotate which station they work at every two months. They even had a few shifts alongside their father before he retired.
"I grew up in that firehouse with those guys, and they've seen me grow up," Deaun said. "Coming back to spend time there and actually making money doing it and having a role was a surreal moment because that has been my dream, and I got to do it with my dad for a while."
Both Deaun and Michael are excited to honor their father's legacy. The legacy may even extend past them. Michael said his 5-year-old son and 3-year old daughter are equally passionate about firefighting as he and his brother were as children. "They think they are firefighters already," Michael said. "Anytime I work they think they are supposed to be working."
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.