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The original item was published from 10/9/2023 3:59:39 PM to 10/10/2023 10:21:29 AM.

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Chesterfield On Point - Archive

Posted on: October 9, 2023

[ARCHIVED] Do the right thing: Experiences at Station 3 shaped Chesterfield firefighter's future career path

Chesterfield firefighter Carl Coppedge

Chesterfield firefighter Carl CoppedgeChesterfield Firefighter Carl Coppedge

Many children grow up wearing firefighter costumes for Halloween and dreaming of the day when they can ride a fire engine, sirens blaring, to the scene of an emergency call.

With help from some friendly neighborhood firefighters, Carl Coppedge’s dreams became reality.

Coppedge, a Chesterfield native, began hanging around Bensley Fire Station 3 when he was 9 years old and equally awestruck by the brightly painted apparatus and larger-than-life firefighters.

Rather than patting him on the head and sending him away, the first responders welcomed the boy and took him under their wing as he grew into a teenager.

Coppedge is 40 now, a husband and father who is 16 years into a rewarding career with Chesterfield Fire and EMS, and he still remembers and appreciates the advice, discipline and life lessons he learned from those firefighters.

“They always used to tell me, ‘Do the right thing. If you think you’re doing something wrong you probably are, so stop it,’” Coppedge recalled with a laugh in a recent interview.

Chesterfield’s Constituent and Media Services Department is sharing his story in recognition of National Fire Prevention Week, which runs through this Saturday, Oct. 14.

Despite his youth, Coppedge was held to the same high standards as his role models in Station 3 and had to earn his keep. He learned to mop floors, cut grass, cleaned equipment and even helped cook meals. But first he had to make sure his homework was done.

“If those guys didn’t take me in and take the time to look after me, my life easily could’ve gone in a different direction,” he said. “A lot of kids weren’t about going to the fire station after school and doing homework. I could have started hanging out with the wrong people and gone astray.”

Hearing the firefighters discuss various calls they had run, things they had seen and done and experienced, the more interested Coppedge became in pursuing a career in the fire service. He became a junior firefighter at age 16, started working as a volunteer firefighter at 18 and was 24 when Chesterfield Fire and EMS hired him for a career position. 

After starting out at Centralia Station 17, then spent time at Phillips Station 13 before being assigned back to where it all began: Bensley Station 3.

When Coppedge walked into the station for his first shift, one of his fellow firefighters asked him if he knew where he was going. 

“I know this place like the back of my hand,” he replied.

Only a couple of the firefighters who served as Coppedge’s role models at Station 3 more than two decades ago remain on active duty with Chesterfield Fire and EMS. He still stays in touch with them and others who have since retired.

They refer to him as “the success story of the fire department.”

“I’m sure at times they thought, ‘Will this kid ever shut up and stop asking us questions?” Coppedge said, chuckling. “Now they just shake their heads and say, ‘Somehow you made it.’”

As an elder statesman at Swift Creek Station 16, Coppedge pays forward the kindness shown to him all those years ago by taking the time to counsel young firefighters who are just starting out in their careers.

“The impression those guys made when I was just a kid has stayed with me,” he added. “Whenever I meet new people in the department, I try to make a good impression as well.” 

Chesterfield firefighter Carl Coppedge hauls fire hose    

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