Former firefighter uses the emotion of losing his mother in a blaze to educate others

January 05, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Mick Moffitt, third from right, survived a 1976 fire in Hagerstown that claimed the life of his mother. In November, Hagerstown Acting Fire Chief Kyd Dieterich and retired firefighter Rich Jordan visited Moffitt in Crowley, Texas, where he is the chief operating officer of a fire and EMS training academy. In the photo are, from left, Moffitt's niece, Jordan Weishner; his sister, Lisa Moffitt; Dieterich; Jordan; Moffitt; Moffitt's wife, Julia; and his son, Brody.
Submitted photo

HAGERSTOWN — For a young boy, few traumas could match the loss of a mother, but Michael “Mick” Moffitt turned a life-changing tragedy into a career dedicated to saving lives.

“He took something awful and turned it into something positive and made a life mission of it,” Hagerstown Acting Fire Chief Kyd Dieterich said of Moffitt, who lost his mother Linda in a fire at their North Mulberry Street home in Hagerstown on Nov. 1, 1976.

Dieterich and retired Hagerstown firefighter Rich Jordan, who both were at the fire, traveled to Texas in November to surprise Moffitt at the 100th graduation ceremony at the Emergency Training Center near Dallas.

Moffitt, 40, was 6 years old when his mother died. He is the chief operating officer of the school for firefighters and paramedics, which combines online classroom work with 14 days hands-on training.

The firefighters he met the night of the fire set him on his career path, Moffitt said.

“The men that night had a tremendous impact on the direction of my life,” Moffitt wrote in an e-mail. “The compassion they showed to a 6-year-old boy steered the course of his life. I believe God set me on a firefighting career path to honor both my mother and the men who did more than just their job to save a young boy.”

The experience is one Moffitt shares with graduates of the center when they complete the live training portion of the course. Until the ceremony, the recruits are unaware of the loss he suffered and how it changed his life, he said in a telephone interview.

“It’s pretty shocking for most of them,” Moffitt said. But it helps them understand his dedication, he said.

“I tell them I have been on both sides of the ladder. I try to help them understand the importance of their calling as community servants,” Moffitt wrote. “That’s what firefighters really are: Servants. This is what I want impressed on every graduating recruit’s heart before they leave and return to their communities.”

“As soon as I finished my testimony with the guys, John (Reed) introduced two guest speakers,” Moffitt wrote. “As soon as they entered the stage, I caught a glimpse of their department patch. At that time, I realized who they were.”

Linda Moffitt had gotten out of the house that night, but went back inside to call for help when she was overcome, Moffitt said. He, his sister Lisa, and his father Terry, escaped from the burning house through a second-floor window. The survivors moved to Texas about a year later, he said.

The fire was caused by an electrical short in a plastic Halloween pumpkin decoration, Moffitt said.

“I was 24 at the time. It was one of those fires I never forgot about,” Dieterich said last week.

Dieterich said he might be the last active member of the department who was present at the fire that claimed the life of 29-year-old Linda Moffitt.

Much has changed in the 34 years since that fire, Dieterich said. The fire occurred before 911 was in widespread use and far fewer homes were equipped with or required to have smoke detectors.

Terry Moffitt, who became active in the ministry of evangelist James Robison, died several years after the fire in a vehicle accident, Moffitt said. Though Mick Moffitt was just 15, his 19-year-old sister was granted custody, he said.

“We miraculously somehow convinced the court to let me stay in her custody,” Moffitt said.

Moffitt earned a degree in fire science and behavior from Hill College and paramedicine training at Navarro College, both in Texas. He became a firefighter in Burleson, Texas, then in Midlothian, Texas, where he became a lieutenant.

When the Emergency Training Center was conceived, Moffitt said there was a realization that many people could be good firefighters, but finding the time for training was a problem because of jobs and other obligations. The center offers classroom work online, and recruits then spend two weeks in a firehouse environment learning the practical skills, he said.

The Herald-Mail Articles