LIKE FATHERS, LIKE SONS: Second-gen Aurora firefighters step down from career ‘few regret’

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AURORA | With the retirement of two familiar faces, Aurora Fire Rescue will lose more than 80 years of firefighting experience at the end of month.

And it’s not just the knowledge Capt. Mike Ackman and Capt. Clint Mitchell picked up during their decades spent on the line, training or managing fire crews that Aurora firefighters will say goodbye to this month. It’s also the decades of wisdom the pair of second-generation firefighters picked up from their fathers — Battalion Chief George Ackman and Lt. A.W. Mitchell — who also spent decades in the city’s fire service.

As the pair of second generation firefighters look toward life outside the fire service, they both say it’s not the stress of pulling up to a burning house or the rush of saving someone’s life that they’ll miss most. Instead, it’s the simpler things — lunchtime at the firehouse, or coffee in the morning with their fellow firefighters.

“That’s when you sit and you talk and you laugh and tell stories,” Ackman said.

Ackman was the first Aurora firefighter to follow a parent into the city’s fire service when he started in 1980.

The department doesn’t have exact numbers on how many second-generation firefighters the city has had, but Mitchell said he can remember more than 10 over the years.

Some bigger cities, particularly on the East Coast, have long traditions of multiple generations working for the same fire department — and even Denver has had several — but Ackman said Aurora never really seen that tradition.

Both Ackman and Mitchell said their fathers never pushed them to fire service, and they never pushed their own sons that way, either.

Still, Ackman said, seeing his father enjoy the perks that come with being a firefighter certainly had an effect on him when he was figuring which career path to take after high school.

Ackman was working construction at the time and said he would come home from work exhausted, only to see his father, who served Aurora fire from 1958 to 1986, relaxing on one of his four days off.

That schedule, where firefighters work several 24-hour shifts a month but also enjoy longer stretches of days off than most lines of work, looked preferable to the regular grind of construction work, he said.

“I’d say, boy, ‘that’s kind of a good deal,’” Ackman said.

After a couple years with the Glendale fire department, Ackman took a job with Aurora Fire Department, the only department he said he ever wanted to work for.

“Aurora was always the place I wanted to be, not Denver, not any place else,” he said.

Mitchell said he hadn’t really considered a career in the firefighting service when he was growing up. But after a couple years away at college, his father mentioned that Aurora fire had an apprentice program, and he decided it was worth considering.

“At the time I was kind of tired of going to college, so I applied, and a couple years later I was on the job,” he said.

He started with the department in 1984, and over the next three decades served a variety of roles, including a couple stretches driving the trucks and engines at Station No. 8 — his favorite stop along his career.

Mitchell said watching the department grow has been a satisfying experience.

When he came on in 1984, firefighters from 10 stations scattered around town responded to about 10,000 calls a year. Now, the 15 stations respond to about 50,000 calls every year.

And even though the department is far busier than it was back then, Mitchell said he has no doubt the crews that arrive when someone calls 911 are better prepared than they once were.

“Once the tone goes off, I feel like we are more prepared than we were three decades ago,” he said.

Ackman said advances in equipment and safety rules have a lot to do with that.

The days of firefighters riding in open cabs — huddled under blankets to stay warm with sirens battering their ear drums — are long gone.

“A lot of the things we did back then are totally in violation of every safety standard we have now,” he said.

While neither Ackman nor Mitchell pushed their children to join the fire service, both said it’s a job they never hesitate to recommend.

“What other job do you have where you can put your hand on humanity like this? And basically bring people back to life,” Ackman said.

And Mitchell said that over his career, he’s realized even people who only work in the firefighting service for a short while always value the time they spent doing it.

“Few will do it and regret it later,” he said.