Dedicated, professional, funny, light-hearted.” “Dedicated on and off the job. Call him for anything and he’ll be there to help.” These words from colleagues Jim Beckett and Mike Gallatin aptly represent Engineer Max Schafer. Max was named 2018 Firefighter of the Year for St. Johns County, and once you meet Max, you will understand why. A veteran professional for twenty-seven years now – twelve in St. Johns County, eight in South Ponte Vedra – Max serves as Firefighter, EMT, Marine Rescue Specialist, serves in Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting, and teaches novices in Jacksonville. He’s participated in various committees, from fundraising for cancer to Peer Support. He particularly enjoys the “Fight For Air Climb” which supports the American Lung Association. These endeavors coupled with his passion and commitment to the job all contributed to his nomination.
Max recalls a “spectacular childhood” in Atlantic Beach. His father was an optometrist and his mother, a homemaker. His parents didn’t pressure him or his brother regarding careers; instead, they spent their time walking, canoeing, camping. “It wasn’t very sedentary around our house,” Max says, tracing his desire for an active career back to his father. Max’s first exposure to emergency services was as a lifeguard during his junior year of high school. In college, he started in the restaurant business, but felt his life was not particularly well-directed. A friend who entered the fire academy introduced the idea to Max. “Here’s something I could be interested in,” Max thought and soon enrolled. Eventually he was employed at Jacksonville Beach Fire and Rescue.
Not only is Max wholly dedicated to the profession, he is also a loyal family man. He and his wife Julie raised two daughters, Jillian and Olivia. His pride emanates when he speaks of them and how they have adapted to his schedule. Both girls were present as Max was honored with the award, and this meant much to him as a father.
Although aspects of the job have influenced his parenting, “Parenting has influenced the job more,” says Max. Interacting with his own children has helped him when on emergency calls – speaking and relating to children without overwhelming them can be challenging. “If they see something wrong with mom or dad, they can become very emotional.” Having raised his own children, he feels he can now help other children better.
On his off time, you can find him on the water with the Lokahi Outrigger Paddling Club – one way he manages the stress of a high-risk job. The job isn’t always stressful, though; there are quiet times and routines. Max thrives when involved with the fire truck, which he as Engineer drives. He also thoroughly enjoys mealtimes. Sitting around the table is a huge focal point of the firehouse. “It’s tribal. Sometimes you’re discussing fire department, sometimes family stuff.” Max cooks occasionally, too – “Chicken noodle soup is my specialty. Homemade. I boil the chicken, make the stock, the whole nine yards.”
Working with his crew is what motivates him. Since receiving the title last January, he finds that teamwork is still the most rewarding aspect of the job. “Our company is excellent at what we do. I am super excited to be working with my guys.”
Learn more about the St. Johns County Fire Rescue by visiting www.sjcfl.us/FireRescue. Written by Carla Tesconi St. Gelais. Photography by David Steele.