Meet the firefighter/paramedic: Jay Curtis enjoys learning new things

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/GCPS
MOORE HAVEN — Jay Curtis is a 38-year firefighting veteran with many certifications.

MOORE HAVEN — Born into a hard-working, no-nonsense Greatest Generation family in Stuart in 1955, Glades County Firefighter/Paramedic Jay Curtis is now one of those “grizzled veterans” whom younger public safety workers look up to as role models.

His roots run deep into the common 20th-century American family history of fighting great wars for world peace.

“My father was born in 1907, my mother was born in 1918. Dad was an engineer and a contractor. Mother started out her young life as a nurse. She contracted tuberculosis from a patient. They took her two children away from her and locked her up for two and a half years,” Mr. Curtis said.

“My uncles served in World War I and World War II. My dad was in the third wave in Normandy. My uncle George survived the Holocaust. My nanny survived the Soviet occupation of Austria; she was 16,” he went on.

“I was raised by no-nonsense people. I was born in Stuart in 1955. Dad had a construction company. Mother was secretary for the sheriff. My two brothers were class president and band major — both are very smart. My father died when I was 10,” firefighter Curtis remembered. After that, he rebelled a bit. This was in the mid-1960s, as young men just a little older than he was were being drafted to serve in another overseas war.

“They sent to me to military school. I was a handful,” he explained. “I punched the principal in the face and joined the Army during the Vietnam War!” He laughs now, recalling that.

But in a twist of fate, “My principal later became the deputy superintendent. He was glad to hire me; he just wanted to know if I wanted to finish the fight from years ago. I told him, ‘No, sir — I need a job!’ ”

Mr. Curtis got married around then, too. “My wife was born in Missouri, raised on a dairy farm and had no brothers. She managed the largest dairy in Okeechobee, and we met at a college in East Texas. We were married at that college.”

He has one daughter and two sons living but, “my children act too much like me,” he laughed.

Mr. Curtis was later a maintenance supervisor for the Martin County School District, as well as volunteer chief on the Martin Grade Volunteer Fire Department for 20 years.

“I worked for Okeechobee County Fire Rescue and was step-up lieutenant for eight years, but I refused to take the full-time position. Had my hazardous materials handling certificate, my life safety inspection certificate, dark water rescue diver’s certification and belonged to the Florida Urban Rescue Team.

“I am certified in heavy rescue, high angle rescue and heavy construction rescue as well,” Firefighter/Paramedic Curtis continued. “I have letters of commendation from Martin County schools and Okeechobee County Fire Rescue. I have 38 years in fire rescue now.”

And the attitude that has sustained him for nearly four decades?

“I do not mind change — I enjoy learning new things,” he said.

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