Note: The story below is an excerpt from our March/April 2015 issue. For the full story download our FREE iOS app or view our digital edition for FREE today!
Spending time in the stations among the responders, and being a tiny part of their actual work only deepens the awe and appreciation for the people who provide this service and protection for the rest of us.
While you and I live immersed in our daily affairs, expertly trained men and women throughout the Roanoke Valley wait in the shadows ready to respond on our worst days. By their ability and commitment we are endowed with a freedom we often don’t recognize, much like the obliviously happy child being raised in a loving home.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The hero will know how to wait, as well as how to make haste.” The first responders featured in this year’s Heroes issue do both with excellence. Their lives epitomize the promise they’ve made – service before self – whether responding to an emergency or walking through their every day. And while they characteristically shun the title “hero,” they also can’t help but live in any other way.
Captain and Medic John Ferguson Price III, City of Roanoke
For Fire Captain and Medic J.J. Price, the weave between his firefighting/EMS work and personal life is seamless. His father, Captain Johnny Price, fought fires with the city for 32 years, retiring in 1995, shortly after Price was hired.
“Daddy had been here forever. I knew it was a good job and a good career,” says Price while fondly describing his many childhood memories to include disciplinary sessions at the fire station when his mother, exasperated with her four sons’ naughtiness, would drive them from their home in Callaway, so in Price’s words, “Daddy could give us a whippin’.”Besides a legacy of firefighting, Price inherited a legacy of serving, too, primarily with the fire union’s charity, the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“Daddy would take us anytime he did anything with MDA. The first memories I have are at Lakeside Amusement Park…we would partner up with a child and ride the rides together.”
Price serves as the Union’s MDA chairman as well as vice president. True to his nature, serving for Price is a family thing. Both daughters volunteer at MDA summer camp – the older as a counselor, the younger during daytime hours. His mother serves as camp nurse, and Price himself partners with a camper for the week – just as in childhood – forging relationships that have continued throughout the years.
Of course, Price has hit bumps along the way. There is his outspoken nature that initially kept him from promotion. And now the balance of captain duties: being one of the guys but being in charge, too.
Not surprisingly, Price’s most memorable experience as a firefighter isn’t emergency-related but rather the day his father pinned him to Lieutenant.
“When I got promoted to Lieutenant, Daddy got to pin me.” Price becomes contemplative. “It took me a long time to get it, but when I actually got it, Daddy got to pin me.”
Lieutenant Charles Mike Elston, City of Salem
Lieutenant Mike Elston is a self-described “adrenaline junkie.” This could account for his expansive list of Fire/EMS experiences: fighting forest fires out west, EMT and paramedic for LewisGale, adjunct faculty member for both American National University and Jefferson College of Health Sciences, teaching technical rescue operations throughout the East Coast, drum major on multiple Pipe and Drum Bands, and volunteering once a month (or more) in Prince Georges Co., Maryland, fighting fires for 24 to 72 hours at a time. Oh…and his day job: Lieutenant Elston runs the B shift for Salem’s Station 2.
Born and raised in Bluefield, Virginia by professor parents, Elston followed his mother’s footsteps to Charlottesville to attend her alma mater, the University of Virginia. An aspiring nursing student at Piedmont Community College, Elston focused his efforts on punk rock bands and rugby. One day Elston’s EMT instructor, John Burruss, invited Elston to come ride a shift at the firehouse.
“It derailed me altogether. It was all done.”
That one ride set Elston on a blazing trajectory that has not slowed in 28 years. And while Elston likes to blame his nature and instructor, his colleagues would say otherwise. Fellow firefighter, Roanoke City Fire-EMS 1st Lieutenant Robert Reid, calls Elston a “fireman’s fireman.” Reid explains that Elston goes above and beyond for the firefighters in the valley and across the country, whether he is teaching firefighters outside-the-box techniques in firefighting and rescue, or flying on his own dime to serve as drum major in Line of Duty Funerals or at the annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service. “Mike is…always striving to spread the knowledge and promoting the brotherhood and sisterhood.”
Whether it’s his addiction to adrenaline, or – more likely – his servant’s heart, Elston has no plans of slacking his pace. And why should he? With a 17 year-old son recently graduated from the volunteer academy who dreams of fighting fires alongside his dad (especially in Maryland) and new crops of firefighters excited to learn, Mike Elston has lots of aspiring left to do.