CAMP BLANDING – Clay County Fire and Rescue Capt. Rodney Townsend loves his job. The veteran firefighter, who admittedly was afraid of fire trucks as a child, would rather not be doing anything …
CAMP BLANDING – Clay County Fire and Rescue Capt. Rodney Townsend loves his job. The veteran firefighter, who admittedly was afraid of fire trucks as a child, would rather not be doing anything else now.
“Believe it or not, when I was a child growing up, I was scared of fire trucks,” he said. “I could be in the house playing and hear fire trucks screaming by. I’d run in the room and jump under the bed. I thought they were coming for me.”
His career as a firefighter began with applying to Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, which at the time was looking for minority candidates to join the force. He was selected and passed the training.
Townsend has made the most of the opportunities in his life. He is a Jacksonville native who served in the U.S. Army for one enlistment as a field artillery repairman. In addition to being a veteran, he has been a daycare owner with his first wife and a restauranteur. He also served with Jacksonville Fire and Rescue for more than twelve years before transferring to Clay County’s Camp Blanding Station 25. He holds undergraduate and advanced degrees as a registered nurse from Florida State College at Jacksonville, bachelor’s in Business Administration from Edward Waters College and a master’s from Colton University in Public Administration. Now, and perhaps most importantly, he has made history in his current position.
Townsend has earned the rank of captain and, in doing so, has become the first Black to attain the positions of both lieutenant and captain in the department.
“For me, it was a major accomplishment,” he said. “I kind of got to the point where I was content with just being a lieutenant and as the years went by, I thought ‘Maybe I want to be a captain.’” He says that being extremely busy with life [teaching Paramedic courses at Keiser University] didn’t allow him to focus on prep for the exam and he didn’t pass on his first two tries. Finally, he locked in.
“I said, I’m going to make captain because if I’m going to retire here in about six years, I want to be as high as I can,” Townsend said. He passed the test and was formally promoted in May 2020.
For Townsend, a big part of the job is its simplicity. And helping people.
“Sometimes we help people in their worst time and the worst of the worst time of their need,” he said. “For them, it’s an emergency. So, for us, it’s an emergency – weather it’s a toothache, a stumped toe or whatever it might be. No matter how minor it is or how serious it is, it’s an emergency and we treat it as such.”
Townsend wants people to know the opportunity is there for everybody. Sometimes you might fall short, but you have to pick yourself back up and know what to for next time.
“As far as future employees or other minority employees, whether black, Hispanic, or whatever, the opportunity is there. It’s just a matter of how much you want to apply yourself,” he said. “I hope by me doing it they can see, ‘well you know what, it can be done,’ and it can be a driving force for them to want to apply themselves more to climb the ladder.”
Townsend believes he is a good role model. He has a mantra that he believes in strongly and passes it onto everyone.
“Don’t fight against the system; make the system work for you and your family and for others,” he said.