McDowell Draws Pride From Serving His Community
Nikki McDowell has seen many changes and tragic incidents throughout his 27 years as a public servant on the Marmaduke Volunteer Fire Department, but he says the safety of his crew is the most important aspect of his role as fire chief.
"I tell my guys put God first, yourself second, your family next, then your job and the fire department after," McDowell said. "You have to do those first four things or you can't be on the fire department; the only reason I've been able to do this as long as I have is because I follow this."
The Marmaduke department currently has 20 firefighters on its roster, including assistant chief Matt Pruett, captains Dustin Estes and Marcus Keller and lieutenants Ashley Catterton and Justin Roberts. The department maintains three pumper trucks, one 3,000-gallon tanker truck, a 110-foot ladder truck, two brush trucks and an instant command rescue truck. The new equipment is extremely advanced compared to the white 1954 model Ford truck used for out-of-town that averaged 35 miles per hour and the 1974 model Darley truck used in town when McDowell began on the department.
Over the years McDowell said changes to equipment have been extensive, making firefighting much safer. Thermal imagers give them the ability to see inside a fire, spot problem areas and search for people before entering a burning building. Better protective equipment and self contained breathing apparatuses allow firefighters to fight fires longer and withstand immense heat.
McDowell said what he loves most about being on the fire department "is the camaraderie and helping people. It's truly a job you love to hate, because when bad things happen it is affecting people's lives, sometimes destroying them."
Initially, McDowell never had an interest in the fire department, but as an Eagle Scout under his uncle Ricky, along with then chief Dennis Payne, he found a love for it.
He joined the junior fire department as an Eagle Scout at age 15. "We could fight outside fires, ride on the fire truck -- everything but fight fires inside," he said.
He said the scariest and worst disaster he has been through with the department was the tornado of 2006 that destroyed large areas of Marmaduke. He and Matt Pruett were watching the tornado move toward Marmaduke from a Jeep Cherokee at the Purcell Cemetery. As McDowell and Pruett drove into Marmaduke, McDowell said he could see the tornado ripping the backside of the high school to shreds. The pair met up with police officers posted on Highway 34, where they watched in horror as telephone poles, buildings, even city hall go up in pieces. "It was a terrible learning experience," McDowell said as he spoke of the aftermath during which he worked in the instant command as on-site rescue.
McDowell is not only fire chief, but is also entrusted with two other very important jobs in the community. He is a fulltime maintenance worker at Marmaduke Schools and drives children to and from school every morning and night as a bus driver. "The best part of working in the community I love is working with the children, the city council and superintendent Gardner. They're all so great to work with," he said.
McDowell also holds his family at the top of his priorities. Their happiness, safety and comfort is always at the forefront of his mind.
McDowell was born in 1968 to Tony and Vikki McDowell. He attended Marmaduke Schools and graduated in 1987. In 1989 he married the love of his life, Connie, whom he met at the age of 14 and she was 12.
The pair began as basketball-playing friends and dated for six years before marrying. "She was still in school when we wed and I remember when she got Homecoming Queen I wanted to punch the guy who crowned and kissed her so bad," McDowell laughed as he looked back on his youth.
He worked at Garlock Rubber Technologies in Paragould for 18 years before moving to MSD. He has three children -- Tyler, 24; Zack, 22, and Abby, 6.