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A Burning Desire to Serve

A Burning Desire to Serve

Collinsville Assistant Fire Chief John Nichols last week. [Collinsville Vol. Fire Dept]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch via YellowBrix

February 11, 2010

COLLINSVILLE, MO – Collinsville Assistant Fire Chief John Nichols will hang up his fire helmet after 33 years on the job in March. Not only will it be his last day on the job, it will be the first time in about 100 years that a Nichols family member will not be working for the department.

His father, Alvin Nichols, served as a volunteer firefighter for more than 44 years, retiring as volunteer assistant chief. John’s grandfather, Ralph Nichols, served as a volunteer as did his grandfather’s brothers, Joe and Artie Nichols.

Known for a legendary work ethic, Nichols – who’s been known to show up at late night fires at all hours (he keeps a set of gear in his car) – is leaving to become southwest regional training coordinator with the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute, where he has worked as a part-time fire service educator for more than eight years.

Speaking in his office Monday Nichols talked about his career, the men he worked with and his future.

Question: A lot of children grow up wanting to be a police officer or firefighter …

Answer: I wanted to be a fireman as long as I can remember. It was a childhood dream come true to be a fireman here. (My father) was a volunteer, so he went from home straight to the fire. I was 10 or 11 years old – I wouldn’t go in the middle of the night – but on weekends I would go and stand by the trucks and watch.

Q: Did you and your father go on any fire calls together?

A: He retired, I think, in 1984 as a volunteer, so seven years we worked together. Many times we would be at each other’s house and the tone would go off and we would go together to the fire.

Q: Fire Chief Pete Stehman wrote that you are a “fireman’s fireman” and even when off-duty you would be among the first to arrive. Why are you the first to show up?

A: I always believed in getting there quickly. Dad taught me when the tone goes, you get up and go.

Q: What fires during your career stand out in your memory?

A: The old Fairmont Hotel on Main Street. It burnt to the ground. I was trying to get in there, and I was in the street when the front wall collapsed into the street. I think dad was in back on that one.

Q: What was your scariest moment on the job?

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