When Robin Duren first told her firefighter dad that she wanted to join him in the ranks, he thought twice about it.
“I just asked her if she was sure,” said Tommie Williams, 68, who retired from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue in 2003 as a lieutenant. “I told her it was a dirty job and they weren’t going to take pity on her.”
Twenty-seven years later, Duren, 48, who has three children of her own, is Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s administrative operations division chief.
And what can make a father more proud than having one daughter follow in his footsteps? Having two.
His daughter and Duren’s sister, Kellie Wiggins, 44, who taught for 11 years, accepted a job with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue about eight years ago.
“The desire was always there,” she said, noting she developed a love for the profession by watching her dad. “It was finally the right time.”
And when the three get together, they naturally have something to talk about.
“It always comes up,” Wiggins said.
Williams got the idea of becoming a firefighter when he was in the sixth grade. A house in the neighborhood caught on fire and he watched the firefighters battling the blaze. Right then, he made his decision.
“But it wasn’t easy for minorities back then,” he said. He tried to get a job out of high school — he graduated from Miami Northwestern Senior High in 1967 — but he didn’t pass the test. He went into construction.
In 1973, as he labored at a construction site, he heard an ad on the radio: Miami-Dade Fire was hiring minority firefighters.
He didn’t hesitate. It was a grueling year of tests, in-the-field training and rotations. He worked at different stations, but spent the bulk of his career — 15 years — at Station 11, 18705 NW 27th Ave.
He married Kathryn Singleton in 1968, a retired Miami-Dade police secretary, and they had five daughters. Growing up, Duren said their dad “had them laying Sheetrock, mowing the lawn and climbing trees.”
“Because of that it was never a thought that I couldn’t do it,” she said.
Duren graduated from Northwest Christian Academy in 1986. She went to fire college at what is now Miami Dade College. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue hired her in 1988. While training, her dad ran her drills and pushed her. She would visit him at his fire station and his crew would help as well.
“When I was out on a call, they’d work with her,” he said.
When she first started, there were occasions they’d end up on the same call. Duren recalled an accident where a car careened into a building.
“I remember saying, ‘Hey, Daddy,’ which wasn’t allowed,” she said as he chuckled beside her.
Now she is a “stickler for the rules,” her sister joked. Her job includes overseeing the department’s policies and procedures.
Dad did the same for Wiggins, who was 35 when she switched careers from teaching to firefighting.
“He was running alongside of me,” she said about the running test. “The instructor had to tell him he couldn’t be there.”
Her oldest daughter, Kiara Lurry, 23, is now training to be a firefighter.
“I think it’s awesome that the tradition will carry on,” she said.
Williams, who still gets calls from his daughters for advice — especially when it comes to labor issues because he was heavily involved with the union — said while he is extremely proud, he still worries.
“I know the risks,” he said. “I say a prayer every night to take care of my girls.”