New Ohio Firefighter Feels Born Into Career

 Nov. 04--Casey Willoughby was born to be a firefighter.

There was really never any question of his career choice. It was there every day for him to see.

His grandfather, George, retired as an Akron fire district chief in 1998. His father, James, is a captain in the department. An uncle, Don, is a fire department lieutenant.

His brother and a cousin are studying to follow the same path.

On Thursday, Casey Willoughby was sworn in as one of 13 new firefighters. Because of budget woes, he waited three years after his civil service test to finally be sworn in.

"There was never a doubt, it just took a little longer to happen," Casey Willoughby said, shortly after his father pinned a badge on the 23-year-old's chest. "I know I have some big shoes to fill."

George Willoughby, 75, sat in the second row during the ceremony held at the department's training facility in southeast Akron. Mayor Don Plusquellic and Fire Chief Robert Ross welcomed the new recruits, who began their service in May or August.

The class was unique in other ways. Instead of being paid while training, 11 of the 13 recruits prepared at the University of Akron without pay. That meant most trained while also working another job.

In the case of Casey Willoughby, he worked part time as a paramedic at Summa Barberton Hospital and as a Norton firefighter while waiting to join the Akron department.

The eldest Willoughby joined the department in 1961 by chance after struggling to support his family as a carpenter. George Willoughby said his career choice came from the recommendation of his friend, former firefighter Tom Haralson.

He said it was no surprise when his sons, James and Don, chose the same course. It was no surprise either, when Casey announced his career path. Now he awaits two more grandsons, Dustin and Jon Michael, as they prepare to take the civil service test in preparation to work as a firefighter.

"They all grew up in a fire department house," George Willoughby said. "There's no better job. It's like they won the lottery. And they know it. I'm just very proud."

The Willoughby men didn't catch a break when it came to becoming an Akron firefighter. They were hired like everyone else based on civil service test scores. Of course, it helps having veteran firefighters around to study and prepare for the test.

"I'm just extremely proud to pass it on," said James Willoughby, 52, a firefighter in Akron since 1985. "I think it's the lifestyle. It's community service that's ingrained in us. We love to serve."

Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or

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