Midway Fire Rescue Lt. Matt Smittle calls firefighting a “family tradition.”
Smittle’s dad, Walter, was the state fire marshal in West Virginia when he was growing up.
“That’s all I was around, that’s all I knew,” said Smittle, 48. “I was probably 12 years old when I was getting in his cruiser with him, running calls.”
Smittle, who is also a paramedic, was 14 when he became a junior firefighter in his hometown of Ripley, West Virginia.
After graduating from Ripley High School in 1987, Smittle attended Marshall University for a while before dropping out to work for the West Virginia State Police, and then the metro 911 center in Charleston, West Virginia.
“(That’s) one of the busiest in the state,” Smittle said. “I was there forever doing that. I loved that.”
After completing his paramedic training, Smittle returned to Ripley to work, climbing the ranks to fire chief.
Smittle was on vacation in Myrtle Beach in 2002 when he stopped by Midway to see a former colleague, Capt. Rex Smith, who encouraged him to apply.
After an agility test and an impromptu interview, Smittle and his wife, Debby, headed to the beach. A few hours later, two Midway firefighters arrived in dress uniforms and presented him with an envelope that contained a job offer.
“We went back to the hotel, the wife and I sat down and talked, and made the move that quick,” Smittle said. “I really enjoyed the guys that were here and the place was awesome.”
Within months, Smittle was working for Midway as a probationary firefighter/paramedic.
“I didn’t have an issue being lower on the totem (pole), because still, to this day, (I) would rather be in the street, in the mud up to my knees, working on people, than sitting in a office somewhere,” he said.
Smittle has once again risen through the ranks, like he did in his hometown.
“Without a doubt, the classes that I obtained in West Virginia absolutely helped me (to) where I am today,” Smittle said.
He said his most memorable experience was a water rescue in West Virginia.
A passer-by reported a car upside-down in an icy creek near his home, and when he and another firefighter searched the car, they found a local elementary school teacher.
The two firefighters pulled her out of the car, performed CPR and saved her life.
Within weeks the teacher, who had been trapped in the car for 45 minutes, was back in her classroom.
For his actions, Smittle received a Congressional Fire Award, a Phoenix Award and a Medal of Valor.
“That was probably the highlight of my career,” he said.
Smittle said his worst experiences are any calls involving children. One child, he said, died right before his eyes.
Smittle’s best advice for young firefighters after difficult calls is don’t hold it in.
“It’s OK to have emotions because you’re working a scene, you’re seeing stuff that is not normal ... so you deal with that by talking about it (and) you keep talking about until (you) feel more comfortable with it,” he said. “It just takes time.”
One of Smittle’s responsibilities is to take care of the logistics of Midway’s EMS operations.
“My goal is make sure the guys that are running the calls in the ambulances ... have the right training, the right equipment, up-to-date equipment, and everything they need to make their job easier,” he said. “Hopefully I have done enough (so) they feel comfortable and confident enough to do their job. If those guys are happy, I’m happy.”
Smittle and his wife live in Murrells Inlet and have one daughter, Kelsey, 21.
He works part-time at Pawleys Island Outdoors and enjoys fishing and going to the beach.
By: Chris Sokoloski South Strand News