Firefighting a family affair for Texas father-daughter duo

Firefighter Verle Pearce said he's excited to pass the torch on to his daughter

By Silvio Panta
Odessa American

ODESSA, Texas — It was a family affair during a festive badge pinning ceremony at the Odessa Fire Rescue’s Central Station where a woman was sworn in to serve at the same fire department her father worked at for more than three decades.

Kayla Pearce, a 27-year-old native of Odessa, was among the six new firefighters Odessa Fire and Rescue now has in its ranks. But Pearce’s addition also marked the first time the department has ever had a father and daughter work in the department, Odessa Fire Chief Roger Boyd said.

Pearce’s father, Verle, a 52-year-old OFR firefighter and EMT, pinned a ceremonial badge on his daughter’s navy blue shirt and hugged her when the audience applauded. “Fire department history comes from family,” the elder Pearce said, adding that he has a son and a younger brother, Buddy Pearce, who worked in the fire service.

Pearce will have spent 33 years as an OFR firefighter next month, but also said he was happy about seeing his daughter follow in his family’s footsteps. “I’m excited about it, (passing) the torch,” Verle Pearce said.

Buddy Pearce, who retired eight years ago, said he was proud his niece made it this far in light of how 90 percent of those who finish the firefighting academy don’t make it to getting sworn in. Buddy Pearce summed up any firefighter’s motive for wanting a career in the fire service thusly: “Firefighting isn’t a job. It’s a life choice.”

The OFR’s five other firefighters who were sworn in by OFR Administrative Assistant Betty Robinson were Adam Blackwood, Jair Hammack, Josh Herron, Luke Kemp and Brody Wood. Former Odessa Fire Training Chief Rodd Huber was lauded for his promotion as assistant fire chief, and his badge pinned on him by his wife Sheila.

There have been fathers and sons, and even brothers and sisters, who’ve served as OFR firefighters but Odessa Fire Chief Roger Boyd said this is the first time members of the department’s firefighting crew are a father and daughter. The inclusion of Kayla Pearce and her dad followed Boyd’s theme of welcoming the new firefighters “into the family.”

“We’ve had fathers and sons … we’ve had some of that but this is our first father and daughter,” Boyd said.

Kayla Pearce was noticeably glassy-eyed the moment her father pinned the badge on her. Becoming a firefighter was the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition, she said.

When asked why she chose firefighting as a career, Pearce said, “I’ve been around it for 27 years. It’s been like family to me.”

“I couldn’t see myself doing anything but this,” Kayla Pearce said.

Jair Hammack, 27, a lifelong Odessa resident, said he spent time trying to find his niche while attending Odessa College and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. But with firefighting Hammack finally found something he wanted to stick with.

“I finally accomplished something to take care of family,” Hammack said.

Josh Herron, another 27-year-old Odessan, said becoming a firefighter was the fulfillment of a dream he’s had since childhood.

“I always saw the fire trucks and wanted to be a part of what they’re doing,” Herron said. “I’ve been ready.”

Kayla Pearce wasn’t the only new OFR firefighter who joined with a pedigree of firefighting history. Luke Kemp, a 22-year-old Lubbock native, said he is now following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, uncle, great-uncle and his father’s cousin, he said.

“It’s just an awesome brotherhood,” Luke Kemp said.

All together, said Mike Kemp, a retired fire chief of the Lubbock Fire Department, there are 234 years of firefighting experience in the Kemp family.

“I’m proud of him,” the elder Kemp said of his son. “He’s carrying on the tradition of family.”

Copyright 2017 the Odessa American

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