Captain Lonnie Benniefield is in his fifth month back to active firefighting — where he prefers to be. He had previously served as Tampa Fire Rescue's public information officer for a year.
Benniefield has an identical twin brother, Jonnie, who also serves with Tampa Fire Rescue. The brothers never did work the same shift together, despite Lonnie's 26 years of public service.
Currently stationed in New Tampa, Benniefield has worked at several different Tampa fire houses.
He recalls substitute teacher Andre Walker from Middleton High School (Middleton was a middle school at the time) who first put the idea of firefighting into his head. Benniefield went to a recruiting class in December of 1986 and was hired in 1987. In his own words, "the job found me."
Patch: Describe one of your most harrowing experiences on the job.
Benniefield: This was back in July of 1987 when I was at Station 4. It might have been my first month on the job. The call was to the Port of Tampa. A fuel storage tank was hit by lighting and we had what we thought was a rim fire (A rim fire is where the rubber seal around the floating lid to the fuel tank catches fire). There were 15 firefighters on top of the tank. The first explosion I remember sent fire shooting 10 to 12 feet into the air. I was starting to think this was it for me. The blast knocked most of us to the ground and we all made for the ladders off that thing. We found out it wasn't a rim fire, that the lightning strike blew up four legs holding the lid level and at any point the lid could have tipped, even tilted heavily to one side with nothing but fire and fuel underneath. The engineer told us we danced with death that night. That was the night I realized that you don't really know when your time is going to be up.
Patch: What was one of your most rewarding experiences on the job?
Benniefield: Again, soon after I started at Station 4. This was on my second term at 4, right near the area I grew up in. We heard on the radio someone had been shot and they were at a barbershop near my old neighborhood. I called ahead to talk to the owner because I knew him. Turns out I knew the victim, too. When we got there it wasn't exactly a life-threatening situation but the fact that we were able to get there and that guy was able to see a familiar face there to help him was definitely one of my most rewarding experiences. The guy called me by my name, I was able to call his mother to tell her he was alright.
Patch: What is the most calls you've had on one shift?
Benniefield: Twenty, maybe more while I was at Station 4.
Patch: What do you do to decompress after a shift like that?
Benniefield: I play a lot of golf. I like playing Fox Hollow, I've played Old Memorial a few times.
Patch: If you weren't working as a firefighter, what do you think you would be doing?
Benniefield: Probably coaching youth sports. I have an RN license, a fire inspector maybe.