How long have you lived in Richmond Hill?
Sonya: Since 1987 when I moved from Nashville. My dad was a country singer. When he graduated from Vanderbilt, we moved down here.
Mike: I’ve been here 16 years. My family is from Savannah, so I wasn’t too far from here prior to that.
What inspired you to become a firefighter?Mike: My sister dated a volunteer firefighter, and my interest in this field sparked from my interaction with him. Most of my family is in law enforcement, so I kind of followed that same path of public service - but with my own spin on it. I started volunteering with Bryan County when I was 18.
Sonya: Mike inspired me to get involved in it for the most part. Also, I went to nursing school and got really involved with a patient that died, and it got me thinking about expanding my public safety skills. I like the medical part of this. I like the fire part because it’s a rush to go in there, and you’re still saving someone or their property. I rode a couple calls with Mike and I didn’t like sitting in the truck and not being able to do anything, so I started going with him to his meetings. I just knew it was where I needed to be.
When did you actually become a firefighter?
Sonya: I started volunteering with Bryan County about a year ago, where Mike was already at. Then we both switched to Richmond Hill because we lived in town and it was easier for us to go to calls. The Module One certification class came up, so I took it. As soon as the full time position came up in Bryan County, which was last month, I took it.
What did you do before you became a firefighter?
Sonya: I was a real estate agent. I did that right after nursing school. I enjoyed it, but the economy pulled me toward looking into something else.
Seeing how one of you are county and one are city, do you guys work together at all?
Sonya: Yes, we do. I still volunteer with Richmond Hill, and I probably run more calls volunteering than I do fulltime. Most of the call volume happens at night anyway, so we’re usually together or one of us will run it while the other stays with our kids.
Have you contemplated that you may fight a fire together?
Sonya: For one thing, it’s nice to know that he’s got my back. There would certainly be some trust and reassurance there when walking into a dangerous situation, more so than the norm.
Mike: From a parent standpoint, you have to think about the possibility that one or both of us might not come home. So it does cross your mind, but, at the same time, you reflect back to your training. We’re trained to do things safely. Anything that happens beyond that is beyond our control anyway. Our kids understand that one of us can be harmed or worse. We’ve had that talk with them, and we’ve just made it clear to them that it would be in the process of trying to help somebody and that’s all that matters. And we get a lot of support out of them.
How many kids do you have and how old are they?
Sonya: We have five kids - all girls - ages two to ten. Jenna is two, Taylor is six, Hailey is eight, Kara is nine and Melissa is ten.
Mike: Anytime the two-year-old sees any kind of a firetruck or fire symbol or anything like that, she gets all excited or makes a siren noise. Some of our other daughters have taken up an interest in firefighting. Now, whether or not they pursue it when the time comes, we’ll see.
Sonya: We’ll probably have at least one more firefighter in the family before it’s all said and done.
Mike: And I always make it clear to them that it’s primarily a male-dominated field, but I want them to understand that they have the same opportunities if they just put their mind to it. With some dedication, I want to let them know there’s nothing they can’t do - whether that’s firefighting or whatever.
What do you guys do in your leisure time?
Mike: We’re actually about to take our first vacation as a couple, in Gatlinburg. With five kids, we don’t seem to have a whole lot of free time, but we enjoy taking the kids to the ball field or to cheerleading. The kids like to come up here (fire station) too.
Is this is a good place to be a firefighter?
Mike: Everyone’s kind of like a family here.
Sonya: I like that it’s not so big so that you know all your fellow firefighters throughout the county.
When you hear about extreme situations regarding this often dangerous profession, like 9/11 and the Charleston tragedy, what emotions does that evoke?
Mike: It makes you proud. I just want everyone to understand that there’s potential for disaster in every community. It’s a dangerous job. When you sign up, you’ve got to understand that.
Sonya: When we first started dating, I was new to the whole thing because none of my relatives were firefighters. I used to watch the news every night because I’d worry about him. Now that I’ve been through the training of it and I go on calls, you don’t think about it as much.