This is a time of year when many families begin or continue cherished traditions.
For some, that may mean watching sports on TV together after enjoying a meal featuring dishes made from prized family recipes.
Or, perhaps it is sharing sentiments of gratitude while seated around the table at grandma and grandpa’s house. It is also a very busy time of year when things don’t always go smoothly, or as planned. Life gets hectic, and it may seem that a lot of time that was meant for togetherness is spent running around putting out fires.
At the Burton-Jenkins household, putting out fires is not a metaphor. It is the family business. Christian Burton-Jenkins is continuing a family tradition by becoming a second-generation firefighter with the Kissimmee Fire Department, where his father, Robin (“Jinx”) Burton-Jenkins, had been a firefighter when Christian was a young child.
Christian was only 8 years old when his father was tragically struck and killed in a traffic accident while riding his motorcycle home from work one day in October of 2006. Though their time together was brief, the impression Jinx left on his son was indelible.
Christian recalls how his father used to pick him up from school and take him to the fire station where he would get to climb on the firetrucks, play with some of the equipment and meet the firefighters. Kissimmee Fire Chief Jim Walls, who worked with Christian’s father, remembers him fondly.
“He was a ‘larger than life’ guy. He had been in the special operations of the British military (he was from England). He was a big guy! He was intimidating! And, the funniest guy you will ever meet! He had a very strong personality - in a good way. He was very outgoing, very positive,” Walls recalled.
He added that Jinx was the type of person that after having met him for the first time, it felt like he’d known him for years.
Those early seeds of interest in becoming a firefighter were planted. They flourished and grew throughout Christian’s childhood - his stepfather is a firefighter with the Osceola County Fire Rescue - and matured into a singular professional goal.
“It’s always been a lifelong dream for me. I haven’t seen myself doing anything other than firefighting,” said Christian.
Walls stayed in touch with the Burton-Jenkins family throughout the years, and attended Christian’s graduation from the Fire Academy.
He said that it was one of the highlights of his time as the fire chief when, the day after the 13th anniversary of Jinx’s passing, he made the call to Christian to offer him a position with the Kissimmee Fire Department, and Christian happily accepted.
“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” he said. “Oh, my gosh! I just got the call! I’m going to be in Kissimmee!” he told everyone at work that day.
After joining KFD, Christian and his fellow freshmen colleagues (he is one of KFD’s three newly hired firefighters) embarked on a three-week orientation, designed to refresh and hone the skills they learned at the fire academy.
During their first week of orientation, their training included work with “hose loads” (techniques for properly loading hoses on a fire truck). They also practiced “forcible entry” methods, a skill used to break through doors to get to people more quickly who are trapped inside a burning house. Christian said that all the training is “pretty exciting.”
At the end of orientation, they are sworn in before the Kissimmee City Commission and then go “on shift” (firefighter work schedule of 24 hours on duty followed by 48 hours off duty) as firefighters with KFD.
It could be said that Christian has some big boots to fill - literally. His father’s boot prints were memorialized in a section of cement that was cut and saved from the old KFD Fire Station 11, and reset at the new Station 11 on Clyde Avenue in Kissimmee.
Some of Christian’s new firefighter family (he says they are more like brothers and sisters than merely co-workers) worked with his father, and remember Christian from when he was only “this big,” he shares while gesturing to indicate his stature as a young boy.
Though he is following in his father’s footsteps and wants to be like his father, he is not trying to be his father. He is working to forge his own path.
“I want to make my own shoes to fill. I want to carry on the legacy, the tradition,” he said.
Walls agreed by telling him, “Be your own fireman, and your own man. And, just make your own path, and you’ll do great.”
So continues a family tradition.