, Muskogee, OK

Local News

October 13, 2013

Longtime firefighter honored

Exchange Club names assistant chief Tipton its Firefighter of Year

John Tipton Jr. became a firefighter on a dare more than 30 years ago. The Muskogee assistant fire chief said he was working at a print shop with two firefighters.

An opening in the Muskogee Fire Department became available, and Tipton was interested. Co-workers told Tipton he probably couldn’t pass the physical and written test.

“I took that as a dare,” Tipton said.

He barely passed.

“That’s one of the best life decisions I ever had in my life,” he said.

Tipton was recently named Firefighter of the Year by the Muskogee Exchange Club. The 33-year veteran of the department said he loves getting ready for work.

Tipton, 54, was nominated by Fire Chief Derek Tatum, who said he’s worked in about every position in the department since he started in 1980.

“If I could say it in one word, I’d say he’s proactive,” Tatum said. “He’s been proactive his whole career.”

He said Tipton is one of the most knowledgeable firefighters, who often takes care of problems before they become issues.

Tipton said adapting to changes in equipment, practices and technology is necessary for a firefighter’s survival.

“I tell my guys that things change, policies change, tactics change,” said Tipton, who manages about 30 firefighters. “Just because we’ve done something for a long time, doesn’t make it right. Sometimes you get stuck in the same old rut and you don’t want to advance.

“These days you have to advance your techniques or you’ll be way behind.”

For example, he cited headgear.

“The gear now lets you get way farther into the fire,” he said. “We’ve got flame-resistant hoods that keep the heat off of us.”

Tipton recalled that he didn’t wear his hood in a recent house fire, reasoning that he used to go into fires without a hood all the time.

“My ears started smoking,” he said. “If your ears are burning, you’re in there too deep.”

Tipton said being named the Firefighter of the Year is humbling for him.

“It was an honor for my chief to think that much about me,” he said. “There’s like 94 guys who could have got that. So it’s definitely an honor for me.”

Reach Thad Ayers at (918) 684-2903 or

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