Mark Spudie, a former battalion chief for Pasco County Fire Rescue, dedicated 30 years of his life in the work of fighting fires.
He hung up his gear on May 30 — walking the corridors of Wesley Chapel’s Fire Station 13 for the last time as part of the county’s team.
“I wasn’t ready to go,” Spudie said. “I would have worked a few more years if I could have, and mainly because of the people there.”
He said his grandfather was a volunteer firefighter, but that didn’t spur him to dream about working in the field, while he was growing up in New York.
Indeed, it wasn’t until he had moved to Florida in 1984, and had worked in construction for five years, that he decided to pursue a career in firefighting.
He attributes the interest to a desire to find a line of work that was more stable than construction. A friend recommended he pursue firefighting.
So, in 1989, he joined Fire Station 19 in New Port Richey.
Over the years, he worked at stations in New Port Richey, the Lutz-Land O’ Lakes area, Hudson and, finally, in Wesley Chapel.
As he made his moves, he climbed through the ranks, taking on titles as driver engineer and lieutenant.
He also witnessed the county’s transformation over time.
“Back when I first started, there was very few structures out there on State Road 54,” Spudie said. “Now, it’s all commercialized and very populated.”
By 2001, he was serving at Lutz Station 23 where he spent the bulk of his career. And, like the rest, this station had a major positive impact on him, he noted.
He moved to the Lutz station during the same year as the Sept. 11 attacks.
While thousands of miles away from the devastation, Spudie said he felt a sense of “brotherhood” among all firefighters during the nation’s ordeal.
While local citizens had already been in the habit of swinging by the station to offer cookies, or a simple “thank you,” Spudie said the community’s support ramped up even more after 9/11.
“It gave the community a new appreciation on what we [do] on a regular basis — how you risk your life to save somebody else’s,” he said.
Spudie doesn’t view himself as a hero.
But, he acknowledged there were times during his career when he dealt with issues of life and death.
There are some calls he will never forget.
In one instance, he rushed into a burning building and pulled out a young boy, but despite those efforts, the boy passed away.
Part of the job meant being able to console victims, who are faced with the prospect of putting the pieces of their lives back together.
But, Spudie said he was glad to be part of a fire rescue community that found ways to respond quickly to community needs, and who enjoyed a sense of camaraderie with each other.
“I’m impressed with our guys and personnel because we’ve been doing so much with so little for so long,” Spudie said. “It is like a family after a while. You just get real close and look out for each other. It’s a bond you never lose.”
Like many seasoned firefighters, Spudie took advantage of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan after being promoted to battalion chief.
The program allowed him to work five additional years before retiring and this year marked the end of his service.
On his last day of duty, in fact, he joined dignitaries in the ceremonial ribbon cutting for the new Station 13.
“It was very bittersweet,” Spudie said. “I knew the day I walked out that door, it was going to be totally different from then on.”
Published July 17, 2019