Mike Brief, left, and David McConnell are both celebrating 30 years on the job with Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Two veteran firefighters with the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District were recently honored for 30 years on the job and their chief says they are irreplaceable.
Mike Brief, 55, and David McConnell, 63 both say they are lucky to be working as firefighters and are as happy to be working there as the district is happy to have them.
Although both men have been firefighters for 30 years it wasn’t a career that either of them thought about as they were growing up.
“I was going to St. Pete College and I was unemployed when a friend told me about jobs in the fire department,” said Brief. “I applied and was accepted, but it was a spur of the moment type thing.”
It was much the same for McConnell.
“I moved to Florida from Michigan to do construction work,” he said. “But construction was bad. I thought about the fire academy because my grandfather was a firefighter back in Michigan.”
Chief Robert Polk said he has to admire firefighters who stay on the job for three decades.
“Thirty years is unusual in any job but the nature of this job makes it more remarkable,” he said. “This job can take its toll and they have to take care of themselves to allow them to do their jobs.”
Both credit their wives and families for being understanding, particularly in times of stress. Brief and his wife Cynthia live in Seminole and have a blended family of nine children, including a son, Nicholas, 28, who is currently serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. McConnell and his wife Nikki live in Largo and have three children and four grandchildren.
Each man can recall incidents during their time on the job that have left an indelible mark. For Brief it was when four teenagers died in a car crash on 86th Avenue in Seminole five years ago.
“I can clearly remember that night because it hit close to home,” he said. “My son played ball with one of the victims, I knew the kid, it was too close to home.”
For McConnell it was when District Chief Bob Rooney’s family was nearly wiped out by his son.
“It happened 20-some years ago when his son killed his mother and brother, (Rooney’s wife and son), then killed himself,” he said. “His daughter was away from the house that night or she would have been killed too. Chief Rooney was at the fire station that night hearing it all.”
Each man has a coping mechanism to deal with such tragedies. “You have to go on no matter what,” said McConnell. “You have to look at it as a learning experience.”
“I have a good support system, the good Lord,” said Brief. “I do the best with the guidance I get, take a deep breath and walk away. You cannot make every call personal.”
Neither man is thinking of retiring just yet. “I was late getting into the fire service so I’m going to stay until I can get my full pension,” said McConnell. “My daughter won’t let me retire,” said Brief. “When she learned I was on the job for 30 years she told me she wants me to stay working until I break the record.”
There is another reason why neither man wants to quit. Both love what they do.
“I have never had any regrets about this job,” said Brief. “I’d do it again in a minute. I love it, I love the people, the department has treated me really well, and it has been a fantastic experience.”
McConnell echoed the sentiment.
“Ever since I joined it has been a downhill ride,” he said. “I have no regrets at all about joining the fire service.”
They do admit to being a bit long in the tooth for the job.
“We’re the dinosaurs, there is a whole new generation of kids coming in,” said Brief. “They want things a little faster than we wanted things but they are all good people, my crew is the best,” Brief said.
McConnell, too, feels the new breed of firefighter is a good one.
“There is a new influx of people coming in. All our old friends have retired,” he said. “Me and Mike are the last hold-outs.”
Both men work out of Station 28 in unincorporated Seminole.
Chief Polk hopes they hold out a little while longer.
“If any work place could fill their ranks with people like those two they would be well served,” he said. “Their knowledge and experience is irreplaceable and we depend on them immensely to mentor our younger employees.”
Then he paid them the ultimate compliment.
“It is a pleasure to have them on board and we look forward to having them continue as long as they are willing to serve.”