There’s been a pattern in Austin Hubbard’s life, since he was a boy.
Dressing as a firefighter every Halloween, donating lemonade-stand proceeds to the Fallen Firefighters Fund, taking monthly tours of local fire stations, having his own scanner and fire pager to monitor calls — Austin Hubbard has been drawn to fire service like a moth to a flame.
“My mom has told me since I was 2, that I was always interested in the ‘big red truck.’”
So it’s no real surprise that Hubbard joined the Aberdeen Fire Department, nor that he has just been named that department’s Fire Fighter of the Year.
Hubbard has been with the department since February. In that time, he has gone on 611 calls and volunteered 1,900 hours. He has completed all 22 firefighter classes and the EMT certification class to become a firefighter.
Here’s one other number: He’s just 17.
“I’ve got grown firemen who are still trying to achieve that,” said Aberdeen Fire Chief Richardson.
Austin, a senior at Pinecrest High School, was recognized at the Dec. 15 Aberdeen board of commissioners meeting. In addition, three firemen received promotions during that meeting. Matthew Dawkins and Seth Yarborough were promoted to Lieutenant and Alan Holmes to captain.
Having completed the necessary training, the only thing preventing Austin from being a full-fledged firefighter — he is currently listed as a “junior firefighter” — is his age. To be a firefighter he must be 18.
Virtue is about to be rewarded; he turns 18 on Dec. 30.
“By January 1 he’s going to be just as much a fireman as anyone else I have here, including myself,” Richardson said.
As a junior firefighter, Austin is prohibited from working in any hot zones, doing any interior firefighting or working in a hazardous materials area, or climbing a ladder in a live call, Richardson said. Hubbard is, however, allowed to respond to calls, ride on the truck and do the things other firefighters do.
Because Hubbard has completed all his training and certifications, he is eligible on his 18th birthday to become a firefighter.
Normally, an 18-year-old without the training seeking to be a firefighter would have to go through a 36-hour probationary training period before they are even allowed to get on a fire truck, Richardson said.
Those who know Hubbard said his dedication and determination is unparalleled.
“He knows where he is going in life,” Richardson said. “He will be a fire chief somewhere someday.”
Richardson, who has been with the Aberdeen department for 21 years, called Hubbard “one of the best support personnel we have ever had.”
Hubbard is ready to take on the full job, saying he has learned much through his training and absorbing the experience of the firefighters he has hung around for much of his life.
“I get to help people in more ways than putting out fires and responding to car wrecks,” he said.
Hubbard views his turning 18 as another step that will allow him to “help people a little more.”
“A lot of people my age who are involved or interested in the fire service look forward to their 18th birthday so they can fight fire,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seven years after my 18th birthday so I can become a lieutenant.”
Austin’s father, Marty, is a volunteer firefighter with West End Fire and Rescue. The elder Hubbard got more involved with the department five years ago thanks to his son’s interest.
“A lot of times the parent gets the child interested in the job, but in this case it was the child who got the parent involved,” Marty Hubbard said.
Or as Austin Hubbard says, “I was old enough to get involved, but I couldn’t drive.”
Austin Hubbard became involved with the West End junior firefighter program at age 14. When the family moved to Aberdeen earlier this year, he sought out a similar program there.
Austin credits current Southern Pines Fire Chief Hampton Williams and Pinehurst Deputy Chief Floyd Fritz, a family friend, as big influences. He visited the Southern Pines fire station regularly as a child and has a hand-written note from Williams with the numbers that correspond to each department and the trucks within those departments so when he listened to his scanner as a boy he could identify which department and which vehicle was responding to each call.
Hubbard remembers attending high school football games and hanging out with Fritz and taking his fire pager without Fritz knowing so he could listen to it.
“It’s Floyd’s fault I’m here right now,” Austin said.
Fritz remembered allowing Hubbard to use the pager and also recalled giving him a Pinehurst Fire Department T-shirt that Austin “wore threadbare.” He also gave him something more valuable: career advice and guidance.
“I gave him a game plan, and he took it and ran with it,” Fritz said. “He did all the work. I just kinda gave him a push out of the nest.”
Hubbard’s parents recall their son always wanting to stop by the Southern Pines fire station for tours, selling lemonade and donating the money to the Fallen Firefighter Fund, but both agree that the boy who loved the “big red truck” and dressed as a firefighter every year on Halloween, really honed in on fire service and helping others on Sept. 11, 2001.
“When 9/11 hit, that second night he walked up to the TV and said, “Mom, think about all the little boys and girls that don’t have moms and dads anymore,” said Austin’s mom, Karen. “I saw it in his eyes that night. It grabbed his heart.”
Hubbard’s father thought some of the calls that he and his son went on for West End might change his mind about his career path. It didn’t.
“He has a passion to help people,” Marty said. “He wants to try to better people’s lives and help people in need.”
His mother worried that he would one day get overwhelmed and decide one day not to go back to the fire station. He never did.
“I used to worry about him burning out,” Karen Hubbard said. “Now I don’t see him losing any interest ever.”