- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

WACO, Texas (AP) - Holidays last longer with the Westerfield family because they have to celebrate in shifts.

Mike Westerfield, a firefighter of 38 years, leads a family of Waco firefighters with a son, stepson, son-in-law and nephew following in his footsteps. And because they all work at different stations around the city and rotate on different shifts, gathering for Christmas can be a challenge.

“We start on the 23rd and we do Christmas until the 27th,” said David Maness, Westerfield’s son-in-law.

The Waco Tribune-Herald (https://bit.ly/1NBthHF ) reports the Westerfields come from a long line of firefighters.

Most of the men said they became interested in the profession early in life, since Mike Westerfield’s father and grandfather worked for Crawford’s volunteer fire department.

“I’ve always been interested in it,” said Tyler Bullard, Westerfield’s nephew. “Grandpa was with the volunteer fire department for as long as I can remember. Growing up with (my cousins), I used to go mess around at the station.”

Firefighters work 24-hour shifts every three days. Normally, the most recently hired firefighters will float among Waco’s 14 stations until a permanent spot opens up at a station they prefer.

Adam Nystrom, Mike Westerfield’s stepson whom Westerfield raised, is the newest to join in the family business, graduating from the fire academy two weeks ago. He previously worked in environmental construction, or “dirt cleanup,” before switching careers because he wanted to travel less and spend more time with his family.

Nystrom said his family members already serving in the department inspired him to change paths.

“I have a lot of respect for all these guys who have done it for so long,” he said. “It got to a point when I said, ‘I’m just going to go for it,’ and I feel very fortunate to be where I am now.”

Being a firefighter has become both more specialized and broader, with people calling stations for all kinds of problems, not just fires, Maness said.

“We’ve become professional problem solvers. When people don’t know who else to call, they call us,” said R.M. Bergerson, Waco Fire Department training chief.

Maness and Brian Westerfield both serve on the “swift water team,” certified to assist with flood rescues, and both Brian and Mike Westerfield are certified hazardous materials technicians. Maness also works with the hazmat unit that stabilizes chemicals after police raids.

“It’s a profession you can be proud of,” Maness said. “It’s rewarding in that aspect.”

Mike Westerfield said although they are self-proclaimed adrenaline junkies, the job is about helping people and turning often horrific situations for the better.

And with almost 70 years of collective service, the stories flow easily among them.

Mike Westerfield said he has worked multiple plane crashes at the Waco Regional Airport over the years and he, Bullard and his son, Brian Westerfield, all helped after the West Fertilizer Co. explosion in April 2013.

“You get to see a lot, learn a lot, do a lot,” Brian Westerfield said.

Then there are the days they pull horses out of wells, chase birds and rescue iguanas.

“You’re never sure what you’re going to do,” Brian Westerfield said. “You never can tell what you’re going to see. It’s something different every day.”

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Information from: Waco Tribune-Herald, https://www.wacotrib.com

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