Summit fire services, community gather together to send off 20-year veteran facing medical retirement
Captain Tyson Houston never wanted to be anything but a firefighter, but after 20 years serving the Summit County community he’s hanging up his gear due to ongoing medical concerns.
A few years back, Houston suffered from his first seizure and was diagnosed with adult-onset epilepsy, a condition that forced him onto a non-response role with the Summit Fire Authority. He needed to get to five years without a seizure to be cleared for firefighting duty, a mark he would have hit this month, but another seizure in January spurred his decision to retire.
“Hitting that five year mark was always a stepping stone for me,” said Houston. “I’ve now had five seizures in all, and this last one in January is the cause of my retirement … but the department has always been in my corner, and having been a part of that organization in my career was probably one of the best things in my life. It gave me the opportunity to meet and work with people I never would have met, and I got to know a really good bunch of people.”
Houston was born just a few miles down the road in Glenwood Springs, and has lived almost his entire life on the Western Slope. He moved to Gypsum when he was young and made his way through Eagle Valley High School. But firefighting was always his dream. His father, Gary, was a volunteer firefighter with the Gypsum Fire Department, which Houston said always stuck with him.
“I grew up in the ’80s when everyone was watching ‘Top Gun’ and wanted to be a fighter pilot,” said Houston. “But during that time I wanted to be a fireman; it was because of that sense of community service, and that sense of pride in your country.”
Throughout high school Houston participated in junior firefighter programs. He began as a resident firefighter with Vail Fire & EMS shortly after his graduation. He worked in Vail from 1995 until 1999 when he moved to Summit County to start working with the Copper Mountain Fire Department.
Houston rose through the ranks to captain before moving to the Lake Dillon Fire Protection District in 2002, which has since consolidated with the Copper Mountain Fire Department to form Summit Fire and EMS. It was there that his medical problems began to unexpectedly emerge.
“I was working on an engine, ran EMS calls and fire calls; the same things you see fire engines doing every day,” said Houston. “I ran that up until 2010 when I had a major seizure at a fire station. … I’d never had a seizure before. The doctors called it adult-onset epilepsy. They can’t tell me why, they can’t tell me why it started to happen at 34 years old, they can’t tell me why it happened as an adult and not my whole life. But it’s something I live with now.”
Houston left to take on a new roll as a training captain with the High Country Training Center in Frisco, developing curriculum to help train the county’s firefighters at Summit Fire and Red, White & Blue.
During his time at the training center, Houston also began refocusing on his education and thinking about what he might due once his firefighting career was over — a sentiment he tried to pass on to other emergency workers in the county.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration from Colorado State University, and is just about to complete his master’s in organizational leadership from Regis University.
“The only thing I’d ever known is the fire service,” said Houston. “It’s hard to think this could come to an end having a seizure condition, and having nothing else to fall back on. I never worked in construction, or had any other job classification other than being a firefighter. I was really worried about having to start over.
“That drove me to push my education, and it really made me focus on pushing other individuals who come through our facility to realize it only takes hurting yourself once, or having some unknown condition to push you out of the fire service. And what are you going to do after that?”
While his firefighting career is over, new opportunities are on the horizon for Houston and his family. Houston and his wife Jennifer are planning on moving to Columbia, South Carolina, on Saturday morning with their kids Jackson, Ryan and Kyle, and nephew Cole. Houston noted that he’s looking to put his new degree to work in the manufacturing sector.
“We will miss the community,” said Jennifer. “We’re going to miss all of our friends, a lot of football families, but we’re looking forward to the next chapter.”
While Houston is leaving, it’s clear that he left an impact on the community during his time here. On Wednesday evening, friends, family and former colleagues from around the county arrived at HighSide Brewing in Frisco to wish Houston well in his next adventure on the East Coast, and to help raise funds for medical expenses. A GoFundMe campaign has also been set up to help Houston and his family with expenses.
“Tyson has served this community for more than 20 years,” said Summit Fire Chief Jeff Berino. “He’s done a good job for us all along, and we’re certainly sad to see him leave us under these circumstances. It’s telling that our firefighters wanted to rally around him and show him how much he’s meant to our family here.”
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