After more than 20 years of service to the Waxahachie Fire Department, Capt. Jon Wilson, 51, is set to retire at the end of March.
His retirement, however, comes a little earlier than expected.
“I’ve been fighting cancer, so that’s why I’m leaving,” Wilson said. “They only give me two to five years to live … I never was planning on leaving at this time. I wanted to do a couple more years and then retire at 55. This is the second go-around with cancer, and they told me it wasn’t going to get better.”
Wilson was first diagnosed with colon cancer about three years ago before it went into remission, but that good news did not last very long as it came back at stage four.
“Everything was fine and then all of a sudden, two weeks after they told me everything was fine, don’t worry about cancer again, two weeks later they told me it’s back,” the fire captain recalled. “It’s in your liver and you got two to five years to live. I said, ‘Man you got the wrong patient … ’”
The Waxahachie native said the journey has not been an easy one.
“Every time I go to chemo, it knocks you down just a little more and a little more,” he explained. “Mentally, I don’t want to retire. Physically, it has taken a toll.”
“I have my days, cry a lot, and then there’s other days it's like, ‘Man, you can cry over spilled milk, it's still spilled milk, you know, so get over it.’ Better me than my wife or one of my kids,” the 51-year-old added.
Wilson has two sons, aged 25 and 21.
When the Daily Light visited him on March 13 at Station 3, the firefighter shared that his younger son was celebrating his 21st birthday on that very day. Wilson became emotional when talking about how his diagnosis and prognosis have affected his family. After taking a brief moment to wipe away his tears, he wanted to continue the interview.
“We have our days …, but they’re fine,” an emotional Wilson disclosed. “They worry like I do, but that’s just part of life. I ain’t got no complaints. I’m blessed. I’ve been blessed all my life. I got the best job in the world, worked with the best guys a man could ask for ...”
Firefighter of the Year
His colleagues say they have the best captain any firefighter could ask for and that his two Firefighter of the Year awards, awarded in 2011 and 2019, prove just that.
“They don’t just go around and go, ‘Oh, we picked that guy,’” Pump Engineer Julio Hernandez said. “There’s 55, 60 firemen here and out of all these guys, I guarantee you every single one of them said, ‘I know who should be firefighter of the year.”
Wilson said the first award was given to him because of his decade-long work with the department’s Christmas toy drive, but he downplayed being deserving of the second one.
“The reason they say I got firefighter of the year is because I still come to work,” he answered with humility. “I’m doing chemo. I do chemo every two weeks. If I feel like I can still make it, I’m coming to work. To me that’s not a big deal.”
Hernandez, who has been with the department for 13 years, explained why he believes Wilson was the perfect choice for the award he got last December.
“Being a firefighter is not just fighting fire, it’s being a servant of the city and then also being a leader to your guys,” the pump engineer emphasized. “It is true, there’s days he comes up here he doesn’t have to be up here … If we’re not doing our job, he’s going to let us know … He comes to work and goes to work.”
“Working with Captain Wilson has been an absolute pleasure,” Hernandez added. “When he portrays what a fireman should be, it's tough on us because we’re like, ‘Hey, if we ever doubt ourselves, if we ever feel like maybe we don’t want to do this job or maybe it’s hard or whatever,’ all we have to do is look at him and go, ‘If he can do it, and he’s taught us how to do this, then we definitely can do this.’”
Wilson is as serious about his food as he is about work.
“If you don’t get the right bag of potato chips, he’ll let you know. If you don’t get the right ranch dressing, he’s going to let you know,” Hernandez joked. “He’s a great story teller. A story that will take me two minutes to tell you, it’s gong to take him 20 minutes. So, by him not being here, it will be a lot quieter.”
Fire Chief Ricky Boyd has been with the department for a little over seven years. He, too, has grown to respect Wilson for his dedication and leadership.
“He’s very professional, and it has always been a pleasure working with him,” Boyd revealed. “He goes out of his way to go above and beyond the call of duty to serve the citizens in the best way he can, and he’s an excellent leader for his men.”
Wilson owns a barbershop and plans to use his free time to cut as much hair as he can for as long as he can.
“You either fight or you give up. I’ll fight till I can’t fight no more,” he said pointedly.
He will also maintain a relationship with his coworkers, whom he calls family.
“I gotta come by because these are my family away from my family,” said Wilson, as tears filled his eyes. “I’ll miss the fire service, period, but I’ll miss my guys more than fighting fire.”
“They’re the ones who keep me going when I’m up here,” he added. “They keep me on my toes because I’m the oldest one out here. Half these boys could be my own kids. I’ve got the best crew … You don’t have to babysit nobody. They know what to do. They know their job and they do it, period.”