Firefighter and paramedic Wayne DeMatthews Jr. certainly did not have a conventional approach to landing his Tampa Fire Rescue job.
DeMatthews is actually a champion arm wrestler, cage fighter, body builder. And he likes to help people, too, believe it or not. He was born in New Jersey and lived in Fort Lauderdale as a youth, graduating from Port St. Lucie High. He worked with the Stewart Police Department and with the Okeechobee Correctional Facility for a year before becoming a City of Tampa firefighter. DeMatthews recalls a friendly inmate at the correctional facility who would seek out potential arm wrestling challengers for him.
"It was crazy, like in a movie," DeMatthews recalled. "All the inmates would be crowded around the railing; I'm sure they must have been gambling toiletries or whatnot, but everyone would be shouting, it was great fun."
DeMatthews remains the undisputed champion of the Okeechobee Correctional facility and is a two-time defending Police and Fire World champion as well as state champion in four different states.
When DeMatthews first got hired at Station 15 near 30th Street and Hanna, he was still living in Stewart. He commuted six hours roundtrip for the first four years of his career, a feat even the towering DeMatthews called "brutal." Finally, DeMatthews spent a few years at Station 18, Station 12 —even a year in Station 20 in New Tampa before finally settling at Station 21 for the last couple of years.
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Patch: Describe your most memorable experience on the job, so far.
DeMatthews: This was when I was at Station 18 about six years ago. It was a 2:30 am house fire, maybe two minutes from the station. The guy was still on the phone with dispatch when we got there. Someone was trapped inside, me and the driver pried the door open, then the captain and I went in to try and save the guy. We crawled past the fire, we got past the kitchen, the living room was on fire. We got into one of the bedrooms, stood up, stepped in and the guy was in there. Captain said, "D-Matt, pickup that dude." The guy was a paraplegic so he needed help pretty bad. I threw him over my shoulder and carried him out. As soon as I got outside, the rescue car was right there waiting, so I put him on and went right back inside. The mom ended up escaping out of a window and we put the fire out. The next day we saw the guy at the hospital. It turned into a pretty big deal. We got an award from City Hall and the Discovery Channel did a story about that call. It aired on Discovery ID's 'Call 911'. It was pretty cool.
Patch: What's the most calls you've ever gone on during a shift?
DeMatthews: At Station 18, I think we must have answered 18 to 22 calls in one shift.
Patch: What do you do to unwind after a shift like that?
DeMatthews: Working out. I've been doing it since I was 13, a little bit of everything. I'll do yoga, P90X, Insanity.
Patch: If you weren't working as a firefighter, what do you think you would be doing?
DeMatthews: I like helping people. I work in the emergency room at Trinity (Hospital) now, so I guess I would be doing that full time.
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