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Culloden fire chief follows family tree footsteps to dream career

Jan. 27, 2013 @ 09:30 PM

CULLODEN -- One of the most inspiring memories from Jason Burger's childhood is the lingering smoke smell when his father returned home from fighting a fire.

"I just remember that being the coolest thing," he said.

Burger followed through on his childhood passion at age 16, joining the Culloden Volunteer Fire Department as a junior member. He then sought fire fighting as a full-time career in Dunbar, W.Va., and eventually completed his dream at age 27 becoming chief of his hometown fire department.

It is a post Burger still holds today.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be chief," the Culloden resident said. "I just had no idea it was going to come so soon."

Burger, now 29, and his wife, Stacey, have one daughter and are preparing to welcome their second child soon, a boy who Burger hopes will follow in the family's footsteps.

That heritage dates back to Burger's grandfather, Brent. The tradition was carried on by his father, Paul, and two uncles. He remembers when they would visit his elementary school for Fire Prevention Week.

"It was very exciting," he said. "I just remember the amount of pride I had in telling classmates, 'That's my dad. Those are my uncles."

Burger now finds himself leading a new generation of not only family, but his community at large.

The Culloden Volunteer Fire Department has 27 members on its roster. Burger estimates 10 are under the age of 25, a very satisfying level for Culloden's rural population at a time when the fire service struggles to find volunteers and then retain those willing to take the risk.

Burger credits a heritage of fire fighting, not only in his family, with bringing in a new generation. Many of Culloden's younger members, like Burger, grew up around the fire stations. Others are friends of those who did.

Burger, who also holds the titles of assistant chief and shift commander for the Dunbar Fire Department, now finds himself teaching the area's newest volunteers. He uses his career path as an inspiration telling rookies to find a veteran in their department who they look up to and pattern themselves after that person.

Now 8 years into his career as a full-time firefighter, Burger used the term "adrenaline junkie" to describe his continued passion and endurance. He still turns his head with every passing siren and has to restrain himself at fire scenes, wanting to jump out of the role of administrative commander and onto the front line.

Burger's time away from fire fighting revolves around spending time with family, although he also enjoys a weekly round of golf. He refers to his play as gardening because of the number of divots he has to replace.

But many of his days off are spent chasing the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Delainey. That involves puzzles and cartoons, such as Bubble Guppies and Dora the Explorer.

"The most rewarding job I have is being her daddy," he said.

Follow Curtis Johnson via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD and facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD.