When Brent McClellan was growing up in West Virginia, he asked for the same thing on his birthday cake every year: a firetruck.
“I begged for it,” said McClellan, now 41 and a battalion chief with Midway Fire Rescue.
McClellan started working at the local fire company in Mingo County, West Virginia, when he was 15, and officially joined at 16. He was the first member of his family to not be a coal miner.
McClellan graduated from Tug Valley High School in Williamson, West Virginia, and got his paramedic degree from Marshall University.
After rising through the ranks to become the fire chief in Lenior, West Virginia, McClellan gave up firefighting for a few years to take a job in the mining industry.
He hated it and was so miserable, his wife told him to go back to the occupation that he loved. The family moved from West Virginia to Pawleys Island in 2003 so McClellan could work for Midway.
“It was very hard to leave the family, (but) it was not hard leaving the area because the economy there depends solely on coal mining, and unfortunately, when coal mining is down, everything is down,” he said. “There will always be a part of me that says that’s home.”
McClellan was promoted to lieutenant in 2006 and battalion chief in 2010.
“The hardest transition for me was from kicking in the door, to pointing and telling (someone) to kick in the door,” he said. “It’s hard to not jump out of that truck and want to go run and kick the door in and want to help save somebody’s life.”
A battalion chief is the shift commander, overseeing the day-to-day operations of a station and also supervises large-scale incidents in the field.
“To excel at that, you’ve got to love it, and you’ve got to have good people beneath you,” McClellan said. “You should always train the next person to take your job.”
McClellan loves helping people, especially his fellow firefighters, adding that is “does his heart good” to see a firefighter get promoted.
“I’ve never wanted to be the center of attention, but I enjoy helping other people reach their potential,” he said. “I have what I consider to be the best bunch of guys you could ever work with.”
Several years ago, McClellan told a recruit that he’d one day be a lieutenant and the recruit laughed at him. McClellan reminded the man of that conversation when he was promoted to lieutenant. “That’s what brings me joy,” McClellan said.
Although most firefighters say their worst experiences involve children. After his twins were born, McClellan became more haunted by calls involving parents. If he responds to a call and an adult dies, he is “torn up” thinking about the children that are left behind.
In his spare time, McClellan is a flight paramedic for Air Reach. “I enjoy doing that, it’s a pretty cool gig,” he said.
McClellan lives in Pawleys Island, with his wife, Penny, and 16-year-old twins, Caleb and Calee. The kids are students at Waccamaw High School, and Penny is the competition cheer coach.
His hobbies are hunting, fishing and spending time with the family. His goals are to finish his bachelor’s degree in fire science, and working for Pawleys Island Community Church, where his family attends.
What’s his best advice for a new firefighter?
“Know without a doubt that you have just entered into a career that is both rewarding and promising,” he said. “It’s the best job. It’s the best choice you could have ever made, but to succeed, love it. You’ve got to love every minute of it. ... You’ve walked into a brotherhood that nothing can ever replace.”