As Orange County Government’s oldest full-time employee, Walter Howell’s philosophy on leadership and workplace ethics could be applied at any organization in Central Florida.
“When you go to work for somebody, give them an honest day’s work,” Walt said. “If you do that, you will progress upward.”
As Walt celebrates the great milestone of turning 80 years old, he continues his service with Orange County Fire Rescue.
Walt fought his first fire in 1959 and has been active with the fire service ever since. He was a volunteer with the Pine Castle Fire Department and became a reserve captain with Orange County Fire Rescue when it was formed in 1981.
Walt eventually took a job with the Fire Rescue Logistics Division, making sure all the firefighters have the tools and supplies they need. Today, Walt still delivers those needed supplies to fire stations around the County.
“My favorite part of the job is meeting and interacting with people throughout my route,” said Walt.
Still, Walt’s proudest moment at Orange County was pinning the badge on his grandson Matthew Howell during Matthew’s ceremony to become a firefighter.
In January 2014, Orange County Fire Rescue welcomed three generations of firefighters to its ranks including Walt’s son Michael Howell.
Walt talked in great detail about the overwhelming energy in the room during the ceremony. He described how the reserves in the audience rose to their feet and shook his hand as he returned to his seat, thanking him for his many years of service to the residents of Orange County. Many attendees said they were proud to see him symbolically pass the torch to the next generation.
"Through dedication and perseverance I've been given the honor of joining the family tradition. I have learned those traits along with other valuable ones by watching my father and grandfather progress through their careers,” said Matthew Howell. “It is an honor to say that I had my father and grandfather pin my badge on at the graduation ceremony for Orange County Fire Rescue. It is a great joy to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with both of them and to be able to call them not only my biological family but also my fellow brothers of the fire service."
One would expect Howell family gatherings to include tales of the big fire. However, Matthew explained dinner table discussions focused on family events such as births and engagements.
“We didn’t talk about the job at home,” said Battalion Chief Michael Howell, Matthew’s dad, who just retired after 37 years of fighting fires. “Work was work and family was family.”
Walt and Michael never pushed their sons to join the fire service. A shared set of beliefs and passions brought these men down the same career path. All three chose firefighting out of a desire to help people in need.
Michael credits his work ethic and leadership skills to his dad, and he has instilled the same values in his son.
Walt is not only dedicated to Orange County, but he’s also proudly devoted to his family, church, and community. He credits his faith for his longevity and his continued desire to serving Orange County. Walt, who has been married to his wife Corrie for 58 years, plans to remain active in his church and serve as a reserve captain firefighter.
The three generations pointed out how much the fire service has changed over the years. When Matthew, who is now assigned to Fire Station 66, began his career, he was required to have more than twice the amount of training as his father Michael. Despite changes in fire fighting equipment and training over the years, the Howell family’s core beliefs have not changed.
Orange County Fire Rescue is proud and fortunate to have such dedicated firefighters within its ranks.