As a young boy, Coulton Watson ’15 used to run after firetrucks that passed his house, thinking he would be able to help them answer calls. These days, he has a seat on the actual firetruck with his fellow firefighters from Station 17 in Henrico County, Virginia.
“Being a firefighter is more than just a career to me; it’s a lifestyle,” Watson said recently. “When people call 911, they are calling you on their worst day. For me to be able to come in and help those people out in such a difficult time in their life is such an indescribable feeling. It’s a kind of feeling that will send chills down your spine and give insight that what you do is worth it.”
Watson graduated from the Henrico County Recruit Academy 67 in February after a rigorous six–month training program. He was one of only 20 trainees selected for the academy from a pool of 1,800 applicants. “The training was very physically demanding, and we had to be willing to push ourselves both mentally and physically each day and make sacrifices in order to help our fellow classmates,” he said. “The bond within the class became strong very quickly because we were all each other had. We became a family and always had each other’s backs. Giving up on each other was not an option.”
He finds these relationships similar to the brotherhood he formed with teammates on Randolph’s men’s soccer team. One of his best memories is when the team won its first ODAC championship during his first year in 2011, and advanced to the Sweet 16 tournament in California.
“He truly exemplified what we expect in our program out of our student–athletes through his hard work, dedication to the team, and leadership,” said Bryan Waggoner, the head coach. “I believe he will quickly rise in the ranks among the firefighting community, and if he showed up to save me I know I would be in good hands!”
Firefighting might not be a common career path for a liberal arts graduate, but for Watson it was the perfect training ground to equip him with a solid foundation of critical thinking, decision–making, and problem–solving skills.
A biology major, Watson put his coursework to good use during his EMT classes at the academy. But he has discovered that his sociology classes at Randolph really helped him learn to view situations from different angles and perspectives. His professors, he said, encouraged him to think outside of the box. “They taught me to not count anything out because that could be the answer you are looking for, but just haven’t connected the dots to yet.”
Watson knows he puts his life on the line every day that he goes to work. But being able to fulfill his lifelong dream is worth the risk.
“This job isn’t about glory,” Watson said. “It’s about using your skills to bring light into people’s lives when they are seeing nothing by darkness. We act as if every call could be our last. We never know what is going to happen, and we are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if that comes.
“I truly love what I do,” he added. “This is what I was meant to do.”