- Associated Press - Friday, June 13, 2014

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - The night before Bill Srna’s first day as a Salina firefighter, he gathered the family together to watch the movie “Backdraft,” the 1991 thriller about the exploits of a Chicago firehouse.

“I’m so excited,” Srna said as the action heated up, “and I look over and the kids are crying. My boys were bawling.”

Brady Srna remembers the incident well and said his tearful reaction was justified as he watched the fiery drama unfold.

“You’re 7 years old and your dad says he’s going to go do that,” said Brady, now 26.

Young Srna has done more than get past his initial revulsion for firefighting: He followed his dad into the job.

The Srnas are one of two father-son pairs serving in the department at the same time.

Jeff Rittel and son Matt are the others.

All four work from Firehouse No. 2.

Jeff Rittel said that to his knowledge, the department had no strict policy on family members working together, but to avoid any whiff of nepotism, the department never really encouraged the practice. The current administration has taken a more relaxed view to the point that sons of other employees are now studying fire science, The Salina Journal reported (https://bit.ly/SrS2Qf ).

“Relations can’t be in direct supervision over relations,” he said. “We can be at the same station, but we can’t be on the same apparatus. I can’t supervise my son.”

Neither Bill Srna nor Jeff Rittel has firefighting in his family. In fact, both had other careers before joining the department.

“I was selling farm equipment,” Rittel said. “I was content, and one day, I was informed the business was going to close. I woke up one day and needed a job.”

A firefighter friend talked him into applying.

“Here I am, 28 years later,” said Rittel, now a captain.

Srna, also a captain with 19 years of service, should have heeded the results of high school assessment tests.

Two listed “firefighter” at the top and on a third, firefighting came in second.

“I thought it was funny,” Srna said.

Srna earned degrees in biology and chemistry and planned to go to medical school.

“While I was in school, I worked on volunteer ambulance services,” he said.

By the time he graduated, the fire to become a doctor had gone out, so he worked as an environmental chemist. That lasted for about nine years, until the stress of middle management ignited the spark that turned him toward firefighting.

Every time he heard an ambulance, he was reminded of his stint as an EMT.

“It was something I had to do,” he said.

His family wasn’t thrilled.

“I took better than a 50 percent drop in pay and my dad came uncorked,” he said.

Fast forward about a dozen years and Srna found himself in his father’s shoes.

Brady was in nursing school when he announced he wanted to be a firefighter.

You can’t do that, was dad’s visceral response.

“My concern was the family aspect,” the elder Srna said.

“It was very difficult to do that transition from being at home and all of a sudden announce to the family, ‘I’m going to be gone 24 hours at a time,’ ” he said.

Salina firefighters work 24 hours and are off 48 hours.

“It took its toll,” he said. “I’m sure it contributed to my divorce from Brady’s mother.”

Rittel had similar concerns when Matt announced he had decided to be a firefighter.

“This is the greatest job in the world,” Rittel said. “I can’t imagine doing anything other than this, but you want for your kids better than what you have. You want them to be safe.”

Matt played it safe by waiting until his dad was at work to tell him the news.

He was studying education at Emporia State University but became disenchanted and enrolled in Hutchinson Community College’s fire science program during a visit.

“I met with one of the counselors and he walked me through the program and I signed up that day,” Matt Rittel said.

“I came home and Dad was on duty, fortunately, so he couldn’t take the full wrath out on me,” he said.

Matt Rittel, 28, has been with the department three years.

Brady Srna will have three years in August.

In larger cities, it’s common for firefighting to be a generational tradition among families, with grandfathers, fathers, sons, brothers and uncles in the service.

As more children of firefighters hire on, that practice may eventually play out here.

It’s too soon to tell, but Salina may someday have a third generation in Brady Srna’s two young daughters.

“They want me to make them a bunk bed that’s a fire truck,” he said.


Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, https://www.salina.com

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