Family tradition: Carson City public safety has many siblings
May 26, 2018
In public safety it's common to refer to your coworkers as your brothers and sisters but for some Carson City first responders, the term is a little more literal.
For a number of the employees in the Carson City Fire Department, Dispatch Center and Sheriff's Office, they have had the opportunity to work with their siblings in the jobs they love.
"I think the more siblings you talk to, the more they will talk about the (public safety) bug," said Carson City Sheriff's Deputy Brett Bindley. "I think it's just in your blood but there are so many people in this agency who have family members in public safety. I think it's hard to see a sibling do a job like this and it's innate and it's something you pick up."
Between the public safety departments, there are nearly a dozen sets of siblings including two sets of twins.
"Sometimes we will be on calls together and people will look at me then look at (my brother) and do a double take and say 'wait a minute, are you guys related?'" said Deputy Mike Gibson, whose twin brother Don is also a deputy and older sister Denise Bauer is a dispatcher with Carson. "We will usually joke and say no we are cousins and we will let it ride for a minute or two before we say we are brothers. From the citizens' perspective it is kind of cool to see their face and their gratitude to twins being on the same team so to speak and gratitude to the sheriff for putting twins on the team or siblings on the department."
"I think when the community as a whole finds out there are identical twins working together at the Sheriff's Office it's intriguing to the folks and community as well to think hey that's pretty cool," added Don.
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While many career fields frown upon nepotism, in public safety it's usually regarded as a benefit.
"The fire service is built off of family," said Fire Capt. Micah Horton. "You have your regular family at home and your fire family at work, but truly if you look back at the history of the fire service, it's built off of brothers and sisters and parents and grandparents who have this common bond that they wanted to help their communities and they did. I truly cannot think of a negative aspect of it, we trust each other so much already from growing up together that it just translates onto the fire ground instantaneously."
Growing up with his older brother Jesse, who's also a firefighter with Carson, their relationship was always close and in the firehouse it's no different.
"It's fun, it truly is fun," Micah said. "It's challenging at times obviously because the work dynamic is drastically different than the relationship we have had our whole lives. I think we both do a really good job at separating the two but of course there are times here and there where the comfort level comes out."
Though they work in the same department, typically most of the siblings don't work together often.
"For the times we get to work together it's fun, we have good laughs," firefighter Dustin Peterson said. "(My brother Clay and I) have only worked about three or four times together since I have been on and each time we do, it's a great time and we have good laughs about it."
For many of the siblings, at the start of their careers it was easier to have that family connection.
"I don't think it's any different for me (working with my siblings) I don't think, in the beginning, when I was learning who to send to which beats I would send Donald all the time and he was like why are you always sending me as cover unit and I was like I don't know who to send," said Denise. "Tough calls I was able to rely on him and call him and say I had this happen. But now I think when I am behind the radio these guys are just cops."
"Having a brother in law enforcement when she started — because I've been here for a while — was a little more convenient for her and to have someone to rely on so it was a little less stressful for her," said Don.
Most of the siblings agreed having their family in the same department creates a built-in confidant to talk out the stress, the fun moments and the every day happenings of the job.
"I can vent, I can talk to him about what's going on with the department, I can talk to him about a call I went on, I can talk to him about whatever and he understands, where someone else may not," said Carson City Sheriff's Sgt. Brian Mays. "A lot of people see on the news and on TV and they think that's kind of what we do and they have no clue what we actually do, but my brother knows."
LIKE SPEAKING another language
Because public safety is such a difficult to understand job, it can create a disconnect at times between first responders and their civilian loved ones.
"If you try and talk to someone who doesn't understand this business it's like you are speaking in Chinese to them; they aren't going to get it, they won't understand the trials and tribulations of the day in the life of a police officer or a dispatcher, they aren't going to just grasp that unless they are personally witnessing that to the extent of maybe where we need them to as a result of us trying to pass off some stress or some pressure in our mind so it is a huge benefit," said Don.
As typical sibling relationships, the eldest still do their best to look out for their younger family member. Dustin said he still looks to his older brother Clay for advice in everything from academics to firefighting to life.
"He's my older brother and my teacher and he still teaches me to this day," Dustin said. "Growing up with my brother he's always pushed me to be better, not really a competition, but a fun competition. He has pushed me since day one… he is the one I go to for advice. And he is always there for advice, but he pushes me in a way where he won't tell me the answer, he will still make me try and figure it out so I know what I am talking about."
Clay Peterson said working with his little brother is the highlight of the job.
"There are no downfalls to having my brother here, not at all, not one," Clay said. "It is an honor to work with my brother."
RUNS IN THE FAMILY
In the fire service, especially out east, nepotism is extremely commonplace and almost required due to the nature of the job and the emphasis on family. Out on the West Coast, it isn't as prevalent, but for the Peterson brothers, firefighting runs in their family with seven uncles in the fire service, a cousin with Carson fire and their father retired from Tahoe Douglas.
"I knew Carson City was the place I wanted to work with the intentions of hopefully Dustin and I working together because that would be pretty cool," Clay said. "Because that was tradition. You don't see it a whole lot around here any more; you go to the East Coast and you have brothers and fathers working together so it's cool to bring it over here, keep the roots deep and keep that tradition and generations going for us and then down the road for our kids.
"It is very humbling and fortunate that we are in this position where we are able to continue it on, especially nowadays. It's the only thing we know how to do. If we have kids we will continue it on hopefully down that line. It is in our blood we have grown around it our whole life. We grew up in the fire service… it is an honor to carry the name and keep it going. We're humbled and honored to do it, to keep it at Carson City it is tradition and brotherhood, it's awesome."
But because of the innate danger of the job, sometimes having your sibling by your side isn't always the ideal situation.
"It's fun, scary in a way," said Carson City Sheriff's Sgt. Earl Mays. "It's fun to work with my brother it is also kind of scary because if something were to happen to him it's like I don't want to be involved or see that.
"But it doesn't add any stress because I am very confident in my brother and I know he knows the job and does it well, just unfortunately this job is very unpredictable so you just never know what is going to happen."
That confidence in their loved ones though gets most of them through their stress of their sibling in a dangerous job.
"I don't look at it like oh it's my brother here, he is going to hold my hand through it," said Mike. "I just know that if he's there he will take care of business and if I am there I will take care of business. We are all going to go home at night and get the job done. I don't ever look at it like he's on a hard call, I don't draw much concern on it maybe because I go to the same calls, and we know how to handle them."
And the fire service is no different. Jesse recalled his first fire and though he was brand new, having his brother there made him feel confident in his job and abilities.
"The guy assigned to RIT — which is the firefighter rescue — was my brother so the level of confidence I had entering that dangerous environment could not have been higher," Jesse said. "It didn't make me reckless and didn't make me do anything I wouldn't normally do but I never in the back of my mind did I have to think I hope this guy knows his stuff because he's my life line, he's my brother and it made me more confident and I know how respected he is around here."
Though the fire service does offer a unique mentality, instead of one sibling to worry about, they have a whole department of brothers to look out for.
"For sure (I get nervous having brother here) but not just for Dustin, all the guys we work with are brothers," said Clay. "Working with my brother doesn't single anyone out, every person who is a fireman, operator, captain we are all brothers. It doesn't matter if you are blood, racial, color anything background, religion it doesn't matter we are all equal, we are all brothers.
"If you ask any fireman they are always going to be wary and scared if that one call happens, you don't want that to happen cause that's your brother going down and we are going to do whatever we have to do get him out, risking our lives and everything we need to do. I get a little emotional talking about it just because I don't want to see that happen. It's just worst-case scenario, it's a bad day."
For the Gibson siblings, they learned first hand the fear of sharing a dangerous job with your family.
"The night of the shooting of (Carl) Howell, I walked into dispatch that morning and they said there was an officer shot last night and it wasn't your brothers and it's one of the hardest things," Denise said. "Mikey was working that night and for me to walk in and hear that, at first my heart sank and then you go into auto-mode and did what I could.
"I remember coming down after and just wanting to hug my brother. I do care about all the officers… but I feel bad that because they are my younger brothers, they have had to see some of the things they have seen you know and that bothers me being the older sister sometimes."
Most of the first responders agreed when bad things happen on duty, it's hard to not think about their siblings first.
"It's difficult for me because I think it's harder to maintain objectivity like when you are dealing with your brother where I can keep it together and be rational but I would have to mind my p's and q's much more if someone took off on (my brother) Cody or hurt him or something like that," said Bindley. "I mean I feel that way with all the cops I work with, but it's especially different when it's your blood. That's why I'm glad we are on different shifts, I don't think the city could handle two Bindleys on at the same time."
But outside the dangers of the job, having someone with the same last name as you at work opens the doors for a number of issues. For many of them, having their siblings there creates difficulties with coworkers' ability to separate the into individuals, especially if one has been there longer than the other.
"Just because we have the same last name we get grouped together like with our personalities, but we are two totally different people," Bindley said. "When supervisors first hear about us, they think we are going to be the exact same; have the same problems, be the same person and that couldn't be farther from the truth. We are completely different; we have different strengths and differences, which go with our personalities, which are also completely different."
"I think one of the hardest parts is that I'm not him and he's not me," added Earl. "So if he does something bad or good it's not a reflection on me and I don't want to be categorized like oh you are Brian's brother. I want to be my own person, he is his own person."
And by having siblings in the same career, especially with brothers, the hierarchy has a tendency to change.
"It's different for me because my little brother is my boss, my little brother is my hero," Jesses said. "So it's strange for me sometimes, I have huge shoes to fill that belong to my younger brother and that dynamic changed, but it is awesome."
For some, that shifting dynamic has a tendency to make way for competition between them.
"So there is competition, like once I knew he was coming into my realm, I knew I had to step it up a little bit because I'm not going to get stomped by my little brother and I still think I'm going to get stomped, just the boot tracks aren't as deep which will be nice," said Bindley. "I think holistically, I don't want to get run over by my little brother so I have to kind of bring it when I come to work… I don't have to beat him outright, I just have to hold my own and not look like the old man which I am deathly afraid of happening."
But all in all, most of the time, having their family there with them acts as a motivator to do better and push themselves.
"To me I feel like my brother sets a high expectation for me," said Dustin. "He has been doing this for a lot more years than I have and he knows how things go a lot better than I do. When I mess something up I feel like it puts it more down on our family, even though it doesn't, but it's just because I'm hard on myself. But he is a motivator, he picks me up (when I feel that way)."
Though the job they do is serious and difficult, the siblings make sure they still have fun with each other.
"Does Cody embarrass me at work, you mean other than drooling on himself during an interview?" Brett joked. "I am pretty sure I have embarrassed Cody though where I have said something stupid at work and he is just like did he just say that?"
100 YEARS-plus OF SERVICE
In the end, it's a benefit and an honor for all of those who serve the community with their families.
"The Horton family has over 100 years of service for the city of Carson, working for the city," Jesse said. "It is something we are super proud of, this is our town, our city we grew up in, we were both born at CTH, raised here and graduated from Carson High School and now we get to give back to the community that if anyone knows the Horton brothers, we have taken so much from."
"My favorite thing about getting to work with my brother is getting to work with my brother," said Earl, "I mean it's great, it is fun we can tell each other stories about work and we get it and we see it, we get to compare notes. If he has an issue with something I can help him with it and vice versa. It is awesome just watching him grow as a police officer and likewise and just being able to be there and help out and witness the accomplishments."
The siblings all agree they're blessed to work in a city that accepts and almost encourages nepotism in public safety.
"People seem to enjoy that Carson is that close knit community that siblings are able to work in the same field as each other and not have those issues or nepotism issues," said Mike. "We are our own people and take care of our own issues. I owe a lot of gratitude for the sheriff for bringing me on, for looking past the definition of nepotism. Since them we have hired a lot of other brothers so I am not sure if it's his philosophy that's changed to have brothers working here, maybe he likes it."
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