Family matters

Stewarts become first father, son and daughter team in the Falls Fire Department.
By Rick Pfeiffer – Niagara Gazette

Falls Fire Department Capt. Gordon Stewart Jr. might have had an inkling, some 23 years ago, what his then 2-year-old son Gordon III would grow up to be.

Stewart had a picture of himself, in uniform and saluting, as he prepares to head for his first day on the job as a firefighter. In his arms, his Gordon III, is also saluting. Call it a case of the “firefighter gene.”

What Stewart couldn’t have known was that his soon-to-be-born daughter Tamara would also have the “firefighter gene.”

Now Stewart has been beaming for the past 11 weeks as Gordon III and Tamara became the first brother-sister duo to join the Falls Fire Department.

“When Gordy was little, he always said, ‘I want to be G.I. Joe fireman,” said Stewart, who is also a 28-year veteran of the reserves. “And Tam, she was a tom boy, and I kind of pushed her that way. She always said she’d be interested in (firefighting), but not until the last two or three years did I think she might (become a firefighter).”

Being trailblazers isn’t new for Gordon III and Tamara. Both played hockey and soccer growing up and Tam wasn’t shy about competing with the boys.

“I started playing when I was 5. I grew up playing hockey. I grew up with the guys,” she said. “I’m comfortable with that. I’m a tom boy.”

She was so comfortable, that when she got to high school, she made the boys varsity hockey team. It was just the beginning of a series of challenges she’d take on.

After taking the firefighter Civil Service exam together, Gordon III and Tamara become the first brother-sister combination even to attend the New York State Fire Academy, Out of the 29 cadets at the academy, Tamara was the only woman.

“I like to challenge myself,” Tamara said with a laugh.

“I was a little skeptical, going to the academy,” Gordon III said. “But she gained the respect of everyone there. She impressed a lot of the (training) chiefs.”

In some ways, Tamara’s path to the fire service was a little more direct than her brothers. She was studying at Niagara County Community College when the chance came to take the exam.

When dad found out that she and her brother has signed up for the exam, he rushed out and got them study guides.

“I spent more time studying (for the firefighter exam) than I did for my (college) classes,” Tamara said.

Gordon III took a less direct route.

“I think (being a firefighter) was something I always thought I might do, but then I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want to just be following my dad,” he said.

Finishing up a degree in communications at Ithaca College, Gordon III took the firefighter test and waited to see if he’d be called. While he waited, he pursued his passion for communications with internships at a Los Angeles-based creative management company and the opportunity to work with well-known documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock.

He even had an offer to sign with the television production company that produces the History Channel series “The Deadliest Catch.”

“I had a little thinking to do,” Gordon III said.

But ultimately, growing up in a “fire family” brought him home.

“I wanted to kind of stay here,” he said. “I think growing up in a fire family, being a firefighter is like having a second family.”

Needless to say, dad, could not be happier.

“He’s been a proud father for the last 11 weeks,” said Battalion Chief Cliff Mayes, who oversees the Falls Fire Department’s training program. “You can’t get the smile off his face.”

“I am thrilled,” Stewart said. “I know for the next 20 or 30 years (Gordon III and Tamara) will be here and having families and maybe bringing up future firefighters. It will make being a (member of the Falls Fire Department) that much greater because my kids are part of this.”

Both Gordon III and Tamara have wrapped up their first rotations on the new job and both agree they made the right career decisions.

“The biggest thing I brought back from the fire academy was that I love the job and it’s something that I’m going to love to do,” Gordon III said. “I’m looking forward to learning what I need to know and being helpful to the community.”

Tamara said she hopes her time on the line will be as rewarding for her as it’s been for her dad.

“When we were kids and had bad news, we always waited to tell dad when he was working cause that was always when he was the happiest,” Tamara said. “You hear that alarm, your hearts pounding and you’re pumped. I’m a firefighter.”

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