For James Worrall III, firefighting is the family business.
“I guess when they say it’s in your blood, it’s not a lie,” he said.
Worrall’s grandfather, James Worrall Sr., held every position except president in the Good Will Fire Company of New Castle. His father was a firefighter in New Castle County, and Worrall’s wife, Heather, is a captain and a Blizzard, a family that has served as Rehoboth firefighters for generations. Her father, Jeff Blizzard, has served as deputy chief for the past four years and was fire chief from 1999 to 2004.
It’s quite a pedigree. Heading into his eighth year as a Rehoboth Beach volunteer firefighter Worrall has a lot to live up to, and he’s doing his part by landing his first big leadership position: 3rd assistant chief, who serves as a kind of quartermaster for the company’s gear and as third in command on a fire scene.
“Definitely got some big shoes to fill,” he said. “A lot of good officers came before me. I’m just hoping I can keep going what they had going.”
Growing up, Worrall said, he didn’t have much interest in being a firefighter, although he often recalls riding along and being around his grandfather at the station house. James Worrall Sr. passed away last year of pancreatic cancer, but Worrall often spent time with him after his parents split up. He said he remembers his mother taking him to the firehouse whenever there was a call, and he also remembers the homemade chicken and dumplings of the ladies auxiliary.
It wasn’t until he reached his 20s and in 2006 left New Castle County to move to the beach, Worrall said, that he first really got the itch to become a firefighter.
“I was like, ‘I’ve got to do something. Just going to work and coming home every day isn’t for me.’ I thought about it, ‘You know, my grandfather was a firefighter, my dad was a firefighter, my aunt was a firefighter, maybe that’s what I’m supposed to do?’ So I joined the fire company, and I haven’t looked back,” he said.
Worrall said what he likes most is the camaraderie amongst firefighters. Whether it’s at his job working for a building supply company, or at the station house, he said he’s never too far away from another firefighter.
“Whether you’re a member of your best friends’ company or not, you’re still a part of that family,” Worrall said.
Worrall said when he first came to the Cape Region, he met Harry Miller, who has served as fire chief for the last two years. Miller told him he had served with Worrall’s grandfather in New Castle.
“You’re never far from home when you’re a firefighter,” Worrall. “You can travel anywhere in the country, and somebody knows somebody that knows you.”
Worrall said he’s been fortunate to avoid serious injury, and he gives credit to his commanders for ensuring the safety of the firefighters as best they can. Worrall said the scariest moment he’s had was falling through the floor of a trailer that had caught fire.
“I’ve been burnt a few times, but I think if you haven’t been burnt you probably aren’t a firefighter,” he said.
“One of my fondest memories was the first Irish Eyes fire. I had just married my wife. I was still a probationary firefighter. Her father said, ‘Come on, you’re coming with me.’ I finally felt accepted into their family,” Worrall said.
“At the end of the day," he said, "I’m proud of what I do.”
The family lives off Munchy Branch Road and Worrall and Blizzard typically work out of Rehoboth Station No.2 on Route 1. They manage to balance firefighting and day jobs with raising their two kids, 6-year-old Riley and 7-month-old Drake.
“It’s usually about a 50/50 thing. We take turns going on calls. If the kids aren’t home, we both go. We have a good, extended family that does a lot of babysitting. With the first kid, whoever got their socks and shoes on first would go. Which didn’t work out too good for me because she’s a lot faster than I am,” Worrall said.
Being away from his family and the fear of the unknown are the most difficult aspects of firefighting, Worrall said. “Sometimes I worry – at any given time, my kids could lose their entire family. It’s the reality of the thing,” Worrall said.
Worrall said the best part of the job is helping the community.
“Just seeing the praise in the eyes of the community when they walk by and shake your hand and thank you for what you’ve done,” he said.
As for the next generation of Worrall/Blizzard firefighters, Worrall said Riley already seems to have the itch.
“She’s been with us from Day 1. She’s been going to the firehouse with us,” he said. “Every chance she gets, she lets you know she only has so many years before she’s 15 and she can be a firefighter. She’s ready.”