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Even Off Duty, Firefighter Jody Black Never Rests

image1-4The Oxford Fire Department’s Station One is quiet on a Tuesday afternoon. After a morning of training exercises, the firefighters on shift get to relax for a bit, as long as no emergency calls come in.

But it’s quiet at 2 p.m.: it’s the middle of a shift, nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. But firefighters like Lieutenant Jody Black have plenty of time left in their 48-hour shift; 48 straight hours spent away from his family and home is spent serving the city of Oxford.

It’s his love of serving others that makes the long shifts worth it for Black, who is accustomed to the hours and time spent in the station with his fellow firefighters. This is his passion, and has been for 15 years in the department.

Black is not just a firefighter, but works as a realtor during his days off. Shifts at the department fall at a pattern: 48 straight hours on shift, at the department or training, then 96 hours off.

“It’s nice to be off for a couple days and not do anything, but I think everyone here just wants something to do and needs something to do,” Black said. “You don’t just help people while you’re at work; it’s something that’s a part of you and it goes throughout your everyday life.”

Being a realtor, Black finds it easy to balance both jobs, as most of his business comes in on his phone or via email. The hardest part of the job is being away from his son, 7-year-old Hayden, spending long days and nights at the station while on duty for the potential emergency.

Firefighters often have to sacrifice everything from holidays to anniversaries to their children’s soccer games for the sake of the job and serving the community.

Deputy Chief Joey Gardner has worked with Black for his entire 15 years at the department, now serving together with Gardner as deputy chief and Black as lieutenant. Gardner, also from Oxford, has been at the fire department for over 19 years, rising up the ranks to his current title. Both know full well the sacrifices each firefighter has to make for public safety’s sake.

image2-2“Our guys spend a third of their life here,” Gardner said. “There’s always someone here. Every hour, 24 hours, for 365 days a year, there is someone at this station.”

For Gardner, this is a comfort to the public.

“When you call the fire department, you need us. It’s a bad day for you if you call us,” Gardner said.

The department responds to every alarm and emergency that happens in the city: car accidents, fires, any alarm (in the city or on the Ole Miss campus), and more. When the tone comes in from dispatch, the department immediately rushes into action, throwing on equipment and jumping in the trucks. In these scenarios, Black drives Ladder Truck 1 to location, the truck everyone pictures: huge, bright red, very loud and with the classic tall ladder on top.

“It’s exciting [to drive the truck], but it can be nerve-wracking,” Black said. “It’s different being behind the wheel than it is sitting… with someone else behind the wheel.”

Chief Mark Heath has only been fire chief for a week, but has 20 years of firefighting under his belt from his time at the Memphis Fire Department. Although he does not know the men and women very well yet, Black stands out as a leader within the department.

“Jody appears to be very supportive and passionate about what he does, and watches out for the guys under him,” Heath said. “He comes across as a guy with a lot of passion, very engaged.”

Even on his days off, away from the station, Black’s image as an emergency responder follows him.

“I think the fire department… we’re held to a higher standard of professionalism,” he said. “So I think that you have to carry that through all aspects of your life. No matter what you do on your days off, everyone still relates you to being a fireman.”

Black grew up in Oxford, sticking around thanks to family ties and the fondness he has for the city.

“Oxford’s just a great place, there’s nowhere around here that compares to Oxford,” he said. “We’re still not a big city, yet we’ve grown so much, but it still has that Southern charm.”

He’s also bonded with the fellow men and women in his department, not only leading them as a lieutenant but treating them as family.

“The fire department, it’s a brotherhood. And we’re around each other so much that it becomes family,” Black said. “The guys here, you just become so close to them. We have good moments and bad moments and ups and downs and fights and arguments.”

Black’s son is part of this giant department family, coming to the station on occasion and participating in the many community activities the department puts on, including when the department visits local elementary schools.

“He’s a very proud son in the aspect that I’m a firefighter. You know, he tells all his friends, you know, ‘my daddy’s a firefighter,’ which is exciting as a dad to hear that your son is proud,” Black said.

But firefighting isn’t all training, checking equipment or school visits. It’s responding to emergencies, of course, and helping those who really need it. These people in distress that Black and his team help are what make the job worth it.

“You know, if we help someone who’s been in a car accident or fire, they sometimes come back later on,” Black said. “It may be two weeks, it may be six months. For them to come back and say, ‘thank you so much’… just to see their appreciation and the smiles on their faces when they come in, that’s the best part.”

By Darby Hennessey, a student at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. She can be reached at dchennes@go.olemiss.edu.

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