Firefighters dedicated to father, north Tooele County
TOOELE — During a training exercise at the North Tooele Fire District, it’s difficult to tell who’s who.
Unless you’re the chief, and the firefighters also happen to be your sons.
Ryan, Eric and Cameron Willden all are firefighters at the North Tooele Fire District. Under the direction of their father, Chief Randy Willden, you could say firefighting is in their genes.
“The boys went with me everywhere I went,“ said Chief Willden, who began his career with the Murray Fire Department in 1985. "They became a novelty when we traveled around.”
Ryan Willden was the first the join the North Tooele Fire District as volunteer firefighter in 2004. Younger brother, Eric, followed in his footsteps as a volunteer firefighter a year later. Both brothers live in Tooele County.
“There is a responsibly and an urge to help those people. They’re your neighbors, your community,” Ryan Willden said.
“It’s that sense of accomplishment. It’s that sense of you’re my neighbor I want to help out how I can,” added Eric Willden.
In 2011, Chief Willden retired from the Murray Fire Department and took his position at the North Tooele Fire Department. His youngest son, Cameron Willden, was hired in 2013.
“I’ve always wanted to make my dad proud. As a little kid, I remember running around the fire station and pretending to be a firefighter,” Cameron Willden said.
With the Willden brothers, there is quite a bit of laughter. They constantly tease each other, pointing out that Eric is the light-hearted one, Ryan is the serious one and Cameron is the pretty boy.
“We were walking around (taking donations) and all the girls kept saying, ‘Can we get a picture with you, Cameron?’ And Eric and I are like, 'What are we, chopped liver?’” Ryan Willden joked.
While it’s obvious these brothers like to razz each other, they take their responsibilities as firefighters seriously.
“When we’re on a fire scene, it’s mostly business,” Ryan Willden said.
“I’ve got to always be aware that I’ve got all these lives to look after,” added Chief Willden. “Not just my boys’ lives, but all of my firefighters lives.”
The Willden men have tackled many life-threatening situations together, including an intense house fire on Captain’s Island in December 2014.
“We had a ceiling collapse inside the garage about 10 minutes into the fire, and one of my boys was inside on the hose line,” the chief said.
“I was actually in the interior when the roof collapsed,” Cameron Willden said.
He walked away unharmed. But it’s moments like Captain’s Island that remind the Willden men to always have each other’s backs.
“Most parents probably wonder where their kids are after midnight, but chances are if we’re out after midnight, we’re together. So if one of us is getting into trouble, we’re all getting into trouble,” Ryan Willden said.
When it comes to working for their dad, the Willden boys say they don’t get special treatment.
“You want to do right by him because he’s the chief. He’s the face of the organization, so you want to put your best foot forward and represent him and our district,” Ryan Willden.
Their respect for their father is without question.
“I’ve been able to grow here and learn here, but I’ve also had, in my eyes, the greatest teacher,” Cameron Willden said. “And he’s pushed really hard to progress the department into a position where it can serve the community 24 hours.“
“It’s really rewarding to have my boys here, to spend good, genuine time with them doing something good for the community,” Chief Willden said.
Ryan and Eric Willden say they will continue as volunteer firefighters in their community under the direction of their father. Cameron Willden, however, will scale back his shifts with the North Tooele Fire District now that he has been hired full time with the Murray Fire Department where his father spent 26 years.
“He is their first legacy hire,” Chief Willden said.
“It’s so great to see that family tradition carry on,” Ryan Willden added.
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