Pete Copeland believes his wife, Abby, has the hardest job in the word: firefighter’s spouse.
“If there’s a fire, I can’t call her and say, ‘Hey, there’s a fire,’” Copeland said. “I always, always text her when I’m done with a fire. And it always says, ‘At a fire. The boys and I are home safe.’”
Copeland, 36, is a lieutenant with Midway Fire Rescue. He oversees operations at the DeBordieu station.
When he was growing up in Fowlerville, Mich., Copeland wanted to be a firefighter. However, after high school he headed to Olivet College to study to be a teacher.
“That didn’t work out,” Copeland said. “College wasn’t my deal.”
So he spent four years volunteering with the Fowlerville Fire Department before landing the job with Midway 14 years ago.
Copeland is a member of the county’s Technical Rescue Team, which means he has training in rope rescue, confined space rescue, trench rescue, wilderness search and rescue, hazmat and more.
“You’ve got to know a little bit of everything,” he said.
He also teaches a class in wildland firefighting at the S.C. Fire Academy in Columbia. It’s some of his favorite training.
“You’re outside, you’re in the woods,” Copeland said. “It’s a little different than being in a building with fire all around you. It’s a totally different animal being outside than being inside.”
His best firefighting experiences revolve around teaching.
“Teaching the younger guys and seeing their eyes light up when they get it,” he said. “We’re here to pass the torch. At some point, somebody’s going to have to do my job and I need to train them to do my job as good, or better, than I do it now.”
He doesn’t like to talk about the bad experiences.
“It’s not a fun job,” Copeland said. “People don’t call 911 because they’re having a party. Every time somebody calls 911, it’s their worst day of their life. That’s how you’ve got to look at it.”
He does, however, encourage the younger firefighters to talk to their colleagues after a bad experience.
“Don’t be afraid to knock on my door,” Copeland said. “Come talk to me off-duty. We’ll go hang out in my garage. You’ve got to talk about it. Us manly fireman, we don’t talk about our feelings.”
He feels a kinship with all his fellow firefighters, but especially the younger ones who move to area from hundreds of miles away, just like he did.
“These guys mean everything to me,” Copeland said. “I was 22 years old when I moved down here. All of my family is in Michigan until the wife came along. … This is my family, this is my home, this is what I do.”
That love doesn’t stop him from planning for his retirement in 11 years.
“I love the job, but when it’s time for me to go, it’s time for me to go,” Copeland said. “A lot of people stay in too long and bad things can happen. I’ve got lots of guys behind me who can take my spot. I’m not afraid. … I could leave tomorrow and they wouldn’t miss me.”
Right now he has no career goals that take him away from the fire truck.
“I enjoy riding the fire truck when I come to work,” he said. “As much as I complain about the call at 3 a.m., it’s what I do.”
Copeland married Abby in May and they just bought a house in Myrtle Beach.
When he’s not working, or relaxing at home, Copeland is riding his motorcycle. He is vice president of the local chapter of the Axemen Professional Firefighters Motorcycle Club, which is comprised of firefighters from Georgetown and Horry counties.
“It’s a group of guys you can relate to,” Copeland said. “It’s not like hanging out with somebody who sits in an office all day.”
Copeland is one of the rare firefighters who doesn’t cook.
“I’ll do the dishes all day long, but I will not cook,” he said.
He has a simple personal goal: never let his guys fail.
“I’ve had a lot of guys come in, do training and then go on to other jobs,” he said. “That’s perfectly fine. If I can help you down the road, I win. I’m good with that.”
By: Chris Sokoloski
South Strand News