To Morris Leondar, the fire service has always been one big family.
At the Grapevine Fire Department where he’s worked for nearly 26 years, the 55-year-old firefighter said he and his colleagues look out for each other like relatives, sometimes even mowing each other’s lawns.
So when his daughter Marissa Sauble joined the team on Wednesday, it felt natural to introduce one part of his family to another. But for the department, it was historic.
While Grapevine has had sets of brothers, fathers and sons, and a husband and wife, Sauble and Leondar are the first father-daughter combo to work there at the same time.
“I started out my morning, my dad came and told me to have a good day when he was on his way home,” 33-year-old Sauble said of her first 24-hour-shift. “It was pretty great.”
There are rotating shifts at Grapevine, and Sauble and Leondar aren’t working directly together. Still, Leondar said it’ll be fun to have the opportunity to stop and chat if she ever comes on duty at his station when he’s leaving duty.
Sauble, a firefighter paramedic, is working at one of the stations Leondar was at when she was a child. She said some of her greatest memories were of dinnertime visits there, when she would climb in and out of the fire trucks, look at her heart rate on the monitor, and play with Domino, the department’s Dalmatian.
“I was always really proud of him growing up,” said Sauble, who once borrowed Leondar’s gear to dress as a firefighter for Halloween. “Career days were my time to invite him to school, to kind of show him off and say, ‘My dad’s got a cool job, look at him!‘‘’
Though she had confidence in his ability to be safe, Sauble said there was a period of time when she worried about the risks inherent in his profession, and she would wake up early and come downstairs to say goodbye before each of his shifts.
When Sauble decided to join the fire service, Leondar said he also had a temporary moment of concern. To Leondar, a driver-engineer and EMT, some tasks, like dive operations in the fire district’s lake or highway work, can be more dangerous than fighting fires.
“But I’m not gonna hold her back from a career I know she loves,” he said. “And I know and trust that she’s going to get trained way better than I got trained.”
Leondar said Grapevine is a safety-conscious department and said that the process of becoming a firefighter in general has become much more rigorous.
Sauble, who attended her dad’s fire school graduation as a child, had her own ceremony this July. Father and daughter both attended Tarrant County College’s Fire Academy, as part of Class 7 and Class 91, respectively.
“Class 7, we only had like one classroom, one old fire truck, and a drill tower. And that was it,” Leondar said. “There’s a whole facility now that the school runs out of … And these days, the [textbook] is probably three times as thick as it was when I went to school.”
For Sauble, 9/11 was the factor that solidified her commitment to becoming a firefighter paramedic. She said she “got serious” after watching TV coverage in high school, beginning to take medical-related classes and asking her dad for a firefighting essentials book.
Meanwhile, Leondar said he initially joined the fire service simply because he was looking for a job. It only took about a year, he said, before he realized it was much more than just a career.
“It gets in your blood,” Leondar said. “It’s a passion for public service, and to help your fellow citizen. You can’t make someone have that, it just is … and mine turned out to be in the fire service.”
He said he plans to retire in a few years, after hitting his third decade with the Grapevine Fire Department. But that doesn’t mean the firefighting tradition in his family has to end.
Sauble said her two sons recently have begun telling her they also want to be firefighters. Although the boys are still young, Sauble said she’s hopeful one will actually follow in her and her dad’s footsteps.
“We may influence them a little,” Leondar said with a chuckle.
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