Across the giant dining room table of Anaheim Fire & Rescue Station 8, Dan Mosman, the low-key and amiable veteran of AF&R, shakes his son’s hand and smirks, “… And you are?” His son smirks back and responds dryly, “Mitchell.”
There is a competition going on here between father and son. It is warm and good-natured and ultimately part of what keeps them close. At the moment, it’s to see who can crack the other one up.
Mitchell, 23, graduated in the 171st Santa Ana Basic Fire Academy at Santa Ana College three weeks ago. His dad graduated in the 71st academy decades ago.
Dan and Mitchell, now sitting next to each other at the table, talk about legacy. It’s a subject that has crossed their minds more often lately. And it’s hardly a foreign concept to firefighters or police officers.
But legacies can begin in ways you don’t expect.
“I started a fire in my kitchen when I was 7 or 8 years old,” Dan says. “My dad took me down to a Buena Park fire station and they showed me what happens in fires. It scared me.”
So, in a way, Dan can thank his dad. It revealed to him a foe he would choose to spend most of his life in mortal conflict with. It also allowed him the opportunity to consider the other side of being a firefighter.
“I thought it would be cool to help people,” says Dan, who became an explorer in 1984.
In turn, Mitchell has long considered his dad to be his role model. And he was nourished by “all the stories he told me. It was very motivating,” he says. “He loves his job and I hope to love my job, too.”
Though he has taken his spot at the back end of the line in a highly competitive market of young academy grads trying to find a job – Mitchell currently has applied at six different agencies around Southern California, and is considering more – he’s been preparing for this a long time. So much so, becoming a full-fledged firefighter seems almost inevitable.
Dan brought him to the station, where Mitchell crawled on the engines as a kid. He hung around fire stations and rode along on a few calls with his dad over the years, and though Dan says he would support his son in whatever he did, “little pieces over time” led Dad to think his son would be a good fit for the job.
Mitchell says there was a turning point for him. He was 14 years old.
“I remember everything,” he says. On one of his first ride-alongs, hundreds of people gathered at the scene where a child had been hit and killed by a car. There was lots of emotion in the air. Though they tried, there was nothing to be done to save the child. Dan asked his son, who was taking in the scene, “Are you OK?”
Mitchell told him yes. In that moment, he understood the full gravity of what his dad and other firefighters did — the mission placed on their shoulders day in and day out.
“To get paid to be that person you rely on,” Mitchell says, “you want to be that first person to save somebody. You want to be the first one to help. It’s a great job. That job is awesome.”
Mitchell would volunteer for two years, a time he says “matured me.” He then was hired as a cadet and went on calls and began to learn the ropes. “Guys helped me on my journey. I got advice [on]what to do and what to prepare for. I was really lucky.”
Still, it hasn’t been easy for either of them along the way, but neither has any regrets.
“It’s tough on dads here,” Dan says. “People don’t realize we miss out on a lot. We might have to work on Christmas, on birthdays.”
And when Mitchell was struggling in EMT school, it was his dad who kept him going. Over the course of a year, Dan and Mitchell spent hours together at the library and Dan always was ready to offer encouragement.
“I like keeping in shape, but I know the job comes down to brains,” Mitchell says. He later passed the national EMT exam.
Dan knows plenty of hard work is still ahead of Mitchell. Both believe in good communication and Dan is always ready to offer his advice, but says his role now is more to “try to keep him in line and keep him motivated on his goals.”
“It’s a great profession. It’s a dangerous profession,” Dan says. “But I can honestly say I still love my job after 25 years.” And that means a lot when he sees his son follow in his footsteps.
Legacies can begin in ways you don’t expect, but are continued in moments greatly anticipated.
Dan says with a smile, “I’m looking forward to the day I pin his badge on him.”