NC firefighter, police officer inspired to follow father's footsteps
The Union Road Volunteer Fire Department alone has had at least 11 father and son/daughter pairings in its history
Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.
GASTONIA, N.C. — Maurice Taylor III has spent his life following his father's career path.
Maurice Jr. served in the Navy during the Gulf War, so his son joined that branch of the military and later deployed to Japan.
Maurice Jr. worked in law enforcement as a detective in the North Charleston, South Carolina, Police Department. So his son became a police officer in Washington state after the Navy took him out West.
But soon after Maurice Jr. moved to North Carolina and he joined the Gastonia Police Department. A son's footsteps finally intersected with his father's.
The two now share a shift at the police department. The younger Taylor gets to work close by the man he grew up idolizing, the man who gave him his name.
"I think that's every father's dream to know that their son is looking at you," the elder Taylor said. "We know our children are looking at us but we don't know to what extent. When you see them following in your footsteps and they get old enough to sit down and talk to you and say, 'Dad, well I really appreciate this thing you showed me. I'm glad you did that.' You really appreciate that."
It's a similar refrain for Craig and Hunter Huffstetler, who share dual roles as father/son and boss/volunteer.
Craig joined the Union Road Volunteer Fire Department in 1991. Now the agency's chief, he recalled taking his son to fire calls when he was a child.
"Even from an early age, I would take him," Craig said. "As he got older, I'd have a call and he'd be waiting at the front door. 'Can I go? Can I go? Can I go?'"
Hunter was determined to be like his father, despite a medical condition that left him deaf in his right ear.
Two years ago, he too joined Union Road as a firefighter.
"Getting to learn from my dad has always been really cool," he said.
A family business
Joining a public service like a fire or police department isn't as simple as just saying you're going to do it.
Each requires hours of training and earning certifications to be able to do the dangerous job.
But barriers aside, children of Gaston County haven't let that stop them from working with their fathers and helping others.
"It's a family affair," Craig Huffstetler said.
Union Road alone has had at least 11 father and son/daughter pairings in its history. In addition to the Huffstetlers, Jimmy Brown and his son, Dylan, currently serve the department.
Matt Young works as chief at New Hope Fire Department, where his son, Jeff Young, is a current firefighter. Buddy Clark works at the Gastonia Fire Department, where his father retired. Earl Withers Jr. chiefs the Dallas Rescue Squad, while his sons, Eric and Earl III, head fire departments in Stanley and Dallas.
Gaston County Police Sgt. Kevin Murphy shares a career field with his son, Patrick, who works for the Gastonia Police Department. Gastonia Police Capt. Scott Norton works with his son at the department. And Gastonia Police Capt. Paul Smith has two sons working as firefighters for the Gastonia Fire Department.
Bob Harris, a career Gaston County Police officer now working a civilian role at the department, says the tradition comes naturally.
His sons, Matt and Dan, work as a K-9 handler for Gaston County Police and a sergeant at the Cramerton Police Department, respectively. The family previously served together on the Community Volunteer Fire Department, where Bob worked for more than 50 years.
"I think you just have mentors that inspire you who are in law enforcement you look up to," Bob said.
Talking about dangers
Emergency workers differ in how much they share with family at home.
Maurice Taylor Jr., who worked as a probation officer before joining the police force, preferred to be an "open book" for what he saw on the job.
Maurice III grew up admiring his father's ability to mentor everybody he came into contact with, but he was still fearful of his chosen profession.
"I always worried about my dad especially when he'd come home and tell me about what he went through," Maurice III said. "I always liked to hear his stories, but always in the back of my head I thought, 'You have to be careful with it.'"
Bob Harris meanwhile, believed it was easier to keep some things "hidden" from his young sons.
An original member of Gaston County Police's Emergency Response Team, Harris was often the first officer to go into dangerous crime scenes, a fact his sons didn't know until they became officers.
"I definitely didn't know the dangerous part," Matt said.
"They kind of kept that away from us," said Dan, who worked in the Gaston County Jail for the Gaston County Sheriff's Office before joining Cramerton Police. "Honestly, when I went to the Sheriff's Office and saw we had murderers in custody, that was a shock to me. He just kept it away from us."
Pride and worry
Ask any emergency worker with children and they'll tell you they have immense pride that they followed in their footsteps, but also worry because they know the danger the job entails.
"My concern is, is he going to hear that command to do this?" Craig Huffstetler said. "But he's done well. He's done really well. I think with his hearing that he's more attentive to his surroundings... For one of my kids to even want to do this makes me proud. If they don't do it I'm good with it. Now that he is he's doing very well."
Dan Harris often works directly with his father, who now helps with fingerprint testing. Matt Harris serves on the Emergency Response Team, just like his father did.
And Maurice Taylor III balances his full-time police job with being a reservist in the Navy, a father to a young son and a student working on his master's degree from Western Governors University.
"He reminds me of myself," Maurice Jr. said. "He's a go-getter. He's continued college and almost finished his master's. I can't be any prouder."
You can reach Adam Lawson at 704-869-1842 or on Twitter @GazetteLawson.
©2019 Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.