February 2012 home page

Fire an’ Nice
Nancy Fisher | 24th Street


Captain Patrick O’Neil. Photo Mike Salt


After 21 years as a Del Mar firefighter Captain Patrick O’Neil still loves what he does, loves where he works, and looks forward to coming to work every day that he’s on the crew.

The San Diego native, 47, who lives in Mission Valley with his wife, Andrea, and rescue-dog Missy, comes from a “big, fun, family of seven brothers and sisters,” but is the first and only family member to become a firefighter. So was he one of those little kids who always wanted to be a firefighter when he grew up? “Yes,” he says, “I was exactly that kid, and then I attended a high school where the local firefighters would run on the grounds as part of their physical fitness program. I’d go over and ask them a bunch of questions about their job.”

As a Captain, Pat is the officer in charge of his crew, which always includes at least one Paramedic and an Engineer, but he’s quick to point out that he’s just a member of the team. “I might make the final decision, but everything we do is a group effort, and each of the nine guys here would tell you the same. We work as a team and resolve problems together.”

Of the many situations to which they respond “anything involving a child is the hardest,” he says, “it’s a young person who hasn’t experienced life, so those are the tough ones. Fires are terrible, but belongings can be replaced.” With this in mind, Pat encourages residents to call the department with their concerns, large or small. “There’s no such thing as a dumb call. Our number one priority is to save lives and we’d rather hear about it than have it turn into something worse.”

As for all the “hero” talk about firefighters, Pat is quick to dismiss the label. “If kids want to look up to us and use it to grow to become like us or better, that’s awesome. But we’re not heroes. We’re just a bunch of guys whose job is to help and protect the people of our community, and we love what we do.”




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