Meet the state wildland firefighter: Forest Ranger Chuck Mullin

OKEECHOBEE — Forest Ranger Chuck Mullin grew up in the suburbs of Lindenhurst, N.Y. on an island east of New York City. After high school he moved with his family to Florida where he loves the country living, being able to see the stars and the wide open spaces.

Helping his father in his accounting office as a young man taught him he did not want a job where he was stuck within four walls under fluorescent lights all day.

Not only is Ranger Mullin certified as a Florida first responder, but he is also certified in Firefighter Structure 1, has a State Wildland certificate, is a certified oilfield diver and is currently in college training for Aviation Business Management with plans to earn an associates degree in six months from the Florida Institute of Technology.

Ranger Mullin is not married and spends his free time fishing, hunting, camping, snorkeling and almost anything outdoors. He was a member of the 1987 U.S. Soccer team, and while touring Europe and the Soviet Block, his team won the international tournament in Sweden and received the Gothia Cup!

As a young man, Ranger Mullin dreamed of being a forest ranger and fighting wildfires, but the starting salary was lower than he hoped to earn, and he decided to do something else with his life instead. In 1992, he toured with the Grateful Dead. He describes it as an eye opening experience and says talking to older people about what they felt was important in life, taught him a lot.

After that job, he moved on to become a lion keeper at Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach where his responsibilities included feeding, maintaining and record keeping for the animals in his care. He says his menagerie consisted of four elephants, 11 rhinos and 26 lions. As much as he loved the animals and the job, he says he couldn’t afford to live on the $4.25 an hour they paid him so he became a certified oilfield diver and boat captain.

Ranger Mullin assisted in the suppression of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He explains, during oilfield diving, your visibility is limited, especially as you push the 200-foot-depth range. He says it was very alarming when large objects bumped into him, particularly sharks! After a diving accident, he decided it was time to change careers again and thought to himself, “What’s the most interesting job out there?” He says that’s when he remembered his desire as a youth to become a forest ranger.

He has been working for the Florida Forest Service for three years, and believes there is no better feeling in the world than operating his firefighting bulldozer while stopping a fire’s progression toward a threatened home. He says, “When I get out of the dozer’s cab, and the homeowner looks over at me and thanks me, it gives me great pride in what I do.”

If he could give homeowners one piece of advice to make their homes a little safer from wildfires, it would be to keep the woods at least 30-feet away from their homes, sheds, boats and decks. “Despite my best efforts, I’ve seen wildfires consume people’s possessions, and there are steps people can take today to prevent that from occurring. I’ve also seen wildfires stopped by green, well-watered grass,” he said.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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