At Station 1, Jon Ford wears many hats, from apparatus operator for the fire department to paramedic and firefighter.
But he’s also known as the team chef. He loves to cook a healthy variety for the two meals he prepares on each shift, but most importantly he considers those meals “family time” for the firefighters to spend time together and build camaraderie. It’s a no-cell-phone zone during meals, so they can connect and converse without technology getting in the way.
“Our job is to see chaos and death and more, so we need that down time together,” Ford said.
In his first position as a leader at the fire department, Ford likes to encourage his fellow firefighters to focus on “not ruining the reputation so many firefighters set before them” as being the ones who run toward a fire instead of run away from it. And to be worthy when residents say “thank you for your service” as the firefighters proudly wear the Leeds Fire & Rescue shirts around town.
At 40, Ford has been a firefighter and paramedic in Leeds for seven years. He went into the academy at 30 after being laid off from a manufacturing job and offered a scholarship to pay for a new career. And he chose to be a first responder.
“I was in manufacturing at a plant and worked 9-5 every day, and I wanted something different,” Ford said. “Here, I walk into something different every day. It’s chaos that we organize the best we can and hope for the best (outcome).”
He said he wanted to find a job where he didn’t dread going to work. “I am absolutely thrilled to come here every day.”
His favorite part of the job is the excitement, adventure and chaos that each day may bring.
An Army brat from all over growing up, Ford now lives in Hartselle in Morgan County and commutes to Leeds for his shifts, as he’s done for seven years. He could’ve changed departments over the years, but he said Leeds has been good to him, and for that, he is loyal.
A father of three – a 20-year-old son in the Air Force, a 12-year-old boy and 3-year-old girl – Ford also runs a budding homemade soap business called Shea Garden Handmade. It started when he purchased some handmade soap and saw how expensive it was, so he decided to make it himself. Soon, his friends were buying bars from him, so he set up shop online at sheagarden.com.
“It’s the opposite of what I do for a living,” he said. “The men here like it.”
On his website, he says, “As a Firefighter/Paramedic, I spend a lot of my day repairing skin damage of my patients. Many of them have accidents or surgeries but some just plain neglect their bodies and health and reap the consequences. I have learned so much in my field about the benefits of day-by-day care of my health and body. Using organic and natural products have changed my life in many ways. I have passed on much of what I’ve learned to my friends and family. Now I want to pass my secrets to healthy skin to you.”
His favorite is the tea tree soap because it has the most skin benefits. A favorite among the firefighters is the Man Bar, which is made with ingredients to scrub hands that are well used.
Ford says he’s learned a lot about life over the years of being a first responder. He’s worked traffic accidents where the driver doesn’t survive, yet their personal items are still next to them – coffee still steaming, a cell phone with messages still lighting up the screen.
“Every moment counts,” he said. “You don’t know when it could be over. I feel blessed to have had 40 years.”