Texas firefighting family's legacy continues with 4th generation

The Glosson family's tradition of public service began in 1956 when Emmett Glosson first suited up at Austin Central Fire Station 1

By Heather Osbourne
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — Stashed away in an old Glosson family photo album are three identical snapshots capturing four generations of firefighters.

The oldest of the three photos shows a young Joe Glosson sitting on a bunk with his feet proudly placed inside the boots of his dad's firefighter turnout gear. The second is of Kevin Gell, Joe Glosson's nephew, sporting the same pose while wearing his uncle's equipment. And the third is that of Kevin Gell's daughter, Tiffany Gell, wearing her own dad's uniform.

From left, Emmett Glosson's son, Joe, his great-grandaughter Tiffany Gell, and grandson Kevin Gell, help Emmett sit in his wheelchair at his home in Austin on Oct. 9.
From left, Emmett Glosson's son, Joe, his great-grandaughter Tiffany Gell, and grandson Kevin Gell, help Emmett sit in his wheelchair at his home in Austin on Oct. 9. (Photo/Lola Gomez with the Austin American-Statesman)

The Glosson family's tradition of public service began in 1956, when Emmett Glosson, Joe Glosson's father, first suited up at Austin Central Fire Station 1, ignorant of the effect his sudden career change — from floor installation to firefighting — would have on his generations. The 94-year-old spoke to the American-Statesman earlier this month, relaxing in an old recliner, looking above his mantel at an axe he was gifted after 32 years as a firefighter.

Surrounding Glosson, as he told tales of fires past, was his son, Joe, who served 30 years as a firefighter; grandson Kevin Gell, who served 34 years; and 19-year-old great-granddaughter Tiffany, an EMT and volunteer firefighter who plans to apply to the academy next year.

"I see the kind of men and people they are and I want to be just like them," Tiffany Gell said. "I remember going to the station as a little girl. The station life is a home away from home. They are all family."

Emmett Glosson said joining the Austin Fire Department back in the old days meant stability. Glosson's wife, however, thought her husband was crazy to take a pay cut just for the benefits.

"I was the firefighter in charge of the Central Station for 18 years," Glosson said as he pet his Chihuahua, Prince, whom the family calls his fire dog. "I used to do floor installations but the fire department has a great retirement program. It went so well for me. The first thing we did was save lives. Then we saved property. It was just something really different every day."

Joe Glosson said the three men first received media attention in 1985 when Kevin Gell joined the department, setting a record as the youngest firefighter in the city while his grandfather Emmett Glosson was the oldest. Joe Glosson was also the youngest firefighter in the academy when he first joined, too.

Michelle Tanzola, spokeswoman for the Austin Fire Department, said it is always special to have generations of firefighters within the department.

"The service is built on family. Your crew members become your family and sometimes your home family and work family cross over in the department," Tanzola said. "It's very interwoven. Firefighting in its very nature creates family, and we rely on that so we can get home safely to our home family."

Emmett Glosson would have had even more kin in the department, but his daughter's dreams of becoming a firefighter were extinguished. At that time, women were not allowed into the academy.

Still, the rest of the family didn't hold back Wednesday with their own memories of life at the station. The entire clan recalled holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July being at the firehouse each year. Birthdays and anniversaries were often celebrated over dinner with Dad during his shifts.

Although the first three generations all worked at different stations, the men said they even sometimes received chances to work together.

"I sometimes drove on my dad's ladder truck," Joe Glosson said. "We made calls together. We got to be a father-son team."

The family said, however, firefighting didn't come without its hidden dangers.

Four years ago, Kevin Gell said he was diagnosed with cancer after being exposed to carcinogens while on the job. Bob Nicks, president of the Austin Firefighters Association, said Gell's cancer case was one of the first to be recognized by the city as a work-related diagnoses.

Nicks said in recent years Austin fire has worked diligently to reduce the level of carcinogen exposure by having showers and laundry rooms at every station. In addition, firefighters are no longer allowed to have turnout equipment next to their beds or bring them home where their families could be exposed.

"The hazard is still there, but I'm happy our equipment is a lot better in protecting us now," Gell said. "We know there are hazards. We're well-trained in what we do, so most of the fear comes with the unknown because we don't know what we're going to face next. We know it's a dangerous job, but that's OK."

Later this month, Kevin Gell will officially retire as a firefighter. He said although he'll miss parts of his job, he's happy to join his uncle and grandfather in retirement. And, even more so, he's happy knowing his daughter plans to continue on the family legacy.

"There was no Plan B for me," Kevin Gell said. "I always knew I was going to be a firefighter. I'm ready to retire now. I'm beyond proud of my daughter. I would even love it if all of my grandchildren became firefighters too if that's what they wanted."

"It's a tradition," Joe Glosson added. "If your kids want to join up, let them do it."


©2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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