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Passing The Torch: A Firefighter Dad's Legacy

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When Dekalb Walcott III was just 8 years old, his father, a Chicago fire chief, let him tag along on a call.

Dekalb says a lot of kids idolized basketball player Michael Jordan when he was growing up in Chicago in the 1990s. Not him.

"I wanted to be like Dekalb Walcott Jr.," he says of his father.

So when his dad asked if he wanted to go on that call with him when he was 8, Dekalb was ecstatic. "I'm jumping up and down, saying, "Mom, can I go? Can I go?' "

The excursion changed Dekalb's life, he tells his dad on a visit to StoryCorps. "My eyes got big from the moment the siren went off," the younger Dekalb says. "Ever since then, it was just like, 'This is the life that I want to live someday.' "

Now 27, the younger Dekalb is living that life. He became a firefighter at 21 and went to work alongside his dad at the Chicago Fire Department. Before his father retired, the pair even went out on a call together — father supervising son.

"You know, it's everything for me to watch you grow," his father says. But he also recalls worrying about one particular fire that his son faced.

"I received a phone call that night. [And they said], 'Well, your son was at this fire.' I said, 'OK, which way is this conversation going to go?' " Dekalb Walcott Jr. recalls.

"And he said, 'But he's OK. And he put it out all by himself. Everybody here was proud of him.'

"And the word went around, 'Who was out there managing that fire? Oh, that's Walcott! That's Walcott up there!' So, you know, moments like that, it's heaven on Earth for a dad."

The younger Dekalb says he's proud of being a second-generation firefighter. "You know, kinda makes me look forward to fatherhood as well, because [I'm] definitely looking to pass that torch down to my son."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher Morris.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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