Resident Spotlight

May 29, 2024

Meet Deercreek Resident: Neil McCormack

Neil was born and raised on the east side of Jacksonville, Fl. and graduated from Andrew Jackson High School. He attended college at FSU until being drafted into the Army.

After leaving the Army, he worked briefly as a freight car mechanic with the railroad, until a good friend, who knew Neil’s destructive nature (haha!), recommended that he take the test to become a fireman. That was the beginning of a 34-year career with the Jacksonville Fire Department. “Every day was an adventure,” beams Neil, “a journey into the unknown! Firefighters are a brotherhood, like no other fraternity,” he continues. “We not only train and work together (24 hours on and 48 hours off), but we sleep and eat together too. Some are better cooks than others, but we have a saying; you don’t have to eat it, you just have to pay for it.” Jacksonville Firefighters prepare and pay for their own food; it is not supplied by the city. They also shop for their own groceries, so if you see a fire truck at the grocery store, don’t be alarmed. They may simply be picking up groceries for their evening meal.

Jacksonville was the first municipal fire department in the country to have its own Hazmat Team and Neil was among the inaugural members. Fellow firefighters named them “The Clorox Team.” This team later trained firefighters from around the US and London. Hazmat training is now required for all firefighters, as is medical training, which is the reasoning behind the eventual name change to Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. “Unbeknownst to many people,” says Neil, “Jacksonville has a lot of storage and transportation of hazardous materials.” He cites ship and hazardous material fires among the scariest of all fires. “You have to enter ships on small ladders,” he explains. “Even though you have a flashlight, it’s so dark and smoky that you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. You just have to follow the sounds of the cries for help.” In 1979, Jacksonville firefighters received such a call when six men were welding in the hull of a barge. A fire broke out, resulting in an explosion that left the men trapped. Firefighters secured themselves to a tagline and went down into the barge after them. All six men were saved, but tragically, JFRD lost one of their own.

While recounting that loss, Neil admits that firefighters assisting in fires and medical emergencies see things people should never have to see. “It’s heartbreaking when you can’t save someone,” he says. “You just have to learn to separate from your emotions in order to get through it.” There were many other dangerous calls as well, like the million-gallon gasoline storage tank that was struck by lightning, resulting in a massive explosion that could be seen and heard around east Jacksonville. A general alarm was sounded, meaning that all available firefighters were required to assist. “It was an intense fire,” recalls Neil. “Portions of the tank were so hot; you could see the liquid levels of gasoline through the thickness of the tank.” It took 22 exhausting hours of concentrated efforts by brave, Jacksonville Firefighters to extinguish the fire. Neil was among those firefighters. His Lieutenant presented him with a plaque fastened to a piece of metal from that storage tank, acknowledging his team’s efforts. “That was one of many calls we left with a good feeling in our hearts, knowing that no lives were lost, and only minor injuries were incurred.”

Fire and Rescue teams respond to all levels of emergencies, including a pet monkey who escaped and was swinging from power lines and a man who dropped a quarter in the sewer and dove headfirst after it, finding himself stuck with only his bare feet visible from above ground.

Neil has been married to his lovely wife, Carol for 42 years. They have two grown sons, Matthew and Mitchell. Their oldest, Matthew, knew at age 15 that he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps. He joined the “Explorer Program” for youth with a desire to become a firefighter and was granted the opportunity to ride and train with his father and his team. Matthew is now a Captain with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. Mitchell is employed in the construction industry.

What brought you to Deercreek?

In 2003, I was invited to play in a Deercreek member/ guest golf tournament. It was my first time in Deercreek and I loved what I saw. It seemed like a perfect fit for our family; golfing for me and shopping at the mall for Carol! We moved to Deercreek in 2004.

Favorite Deercreek Memory:

“My favorite Deercreek memory is the day I made a hole-in-one, Par 3 #11 in 2021. It only took me 75 years to get my first hole-in-one! Drinks were on me! But what I love most about Deercreek is the people. We’ve formed many lasting friendships.

Hobbies and Special Interests:

Neil loves to golf, but his passion is for all things “sugar and spice.” (He makes incredible desserts). His desire to help others did not end when retiring from JFRD. Neil was among club members who volunteered to build new bridges on the golf course, and he has also helped lead efforts in cutting and removing large fallen trees from the roadways following hurricanes. He is sometimes a man of few words, but his action for helping others speaks volumes.

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