Considering Jarrett V. Sheldon’s upbringing, it’s not at all surprising that he wound up a firefighter.
His father is a firefighter and Sheldon — now Brownsville’s fire chief — grew up around fire trucks. He watched his father, who was with the Brownsville Fire Department for years, served as fire marshal for the Los Fresnos Fire Department and is still a volunteer firefighter with LFFD, respond to calls and saw the satisfaction he got from helping people and the pride he had being part of the fire service community.
“It was a sense of family,” Chief Sheldon told the Herald. “It’s always been a sense of family, a brotherhood and sisterhood even today. That was something that really interested me.”
The fire bug bit his brothers as well. Sheldon’s older brother is a firefighter with BFD as was his younger brother, who died in 2017. Sheldon, born in Brownsville but raised in Los Fresnos, followed in the footsteps of his father when he joined LFFD as a volunteer in 1994. He was still in high school, and took his first fire-training courses around that time.
“I started going through my first EMS courses when I was 16, even though I couldn’t get certified because I wasn’t old enough,” Sheldon said. “I started doing the trainings and doing the courses at 16 years old. Once I turned 18 I redid some of these classes and got certified and jumped into this career.”
He joined the BFD in 2001. Sheldon’s first week at fire academy coincided with 9/11. As a rookie watching 343 New York City firefighters lose their lives, he was deeply moved, feeling a connection with those heroes and becoming even more passionate about his career choice, Sheldon said. He was made BFD interim deputy chief in 2014, deputy chief in 2016 and acting chief in 2017 before being promoted to full chief.
“Technically I have three years serving as fire chief but two years serving in the official capacity,” he said. “I’m very humbled to serve in this position. It’s an honor to me to be able to serve the community in this position. The job to me it’s an adrenaline rush every day.”
Sheldon, who also served on the Texas Fire Chiefs Association board, praised the superior quality of his department and its leadership team.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the toughest thing the department has had to deal with in his time there, including the devastating impact on the families of some BFD personnel, Sheldon said. At the same time, the crisis has presented opportunities to fast-track operational changes that will serve the community well in the long run, he said.
Meanwhile, the urge for professional development has never left Sheldon, who himself instructed for several years at fire academy. Now he’s finishing up a certified public management certification through the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and is also working on a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership among other educational pursuits.
“My nights are long, because it’s homework and assignments every night,” Sheldon said.
Fire Pevention Week kicks off Oct. 4, and it’ll be challenging due to the pandemic, he said. Sheldon took the opportunity to dispense some fire safety advice early.
“The focus this year is going to be on preventing cooking fires,” he said. “As more and more people stay home, more and more people are cooking at home. The main thing is be careful with you children when you do have your stove on, you know, if you’re boiling something, hot pans. Children are curious and unfortunately accidents do happen. Our message is just be very careful.”