Pinellas Suncoast Fire Rescue District Chief Dennis Furnell
Imagine being in charge of loading military cargo ships for the Iraq War, at night, in the central port of Kuwait and the temperature is a balmy 120 degrees!
For Pinellas Suncoast Fire Rescue District Chief Dennis Furnell this was his “other” job for months while finishing his twenty-four year career in the US Navy. Furnell, a “real Floridian,” was born in Suncoast Hospital and graduated from Largo High School. At 19, he enlisted for six years (three active and three active reserve) becoming a shipboard firefighter and a search and rescue swimmer on the USS Guadalcanal.
Returning to “civilian life,” Furnell held several jobs from being a bouncer in a local country bar, to owning his own movie store, working on the Howard Frankland Bridge as a pile driver, and being on the NFL security team for Super Bowl XXI.
Furnell reenlisted in the Navy reserve and became a senior cargo handler. During his 21-year career he has been to more countries than he can remember and has served in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Operation Desert Storm saw Furnell and his unit headed for Guam or “ammo” island as he called it. Since the personnel at the base had been told that his unit was coming only 24 hours earlier and since they had no barracks except for several storage Quonset huts set for demolition, they were left to make do. Furnell said because his unit were reservists and had “regular jobs” at home, they were able within two days to have electricity, windows, air conditioning, and plumbing.
When sent to the Seattle, Washington, area for “Operation Seahawk” (an army, navy, air force and marine drill), Furnell’s unit was called upon to relieve a civilian contractor’s ship loading group who had been working for 18 months straight getting the ship loaded a day ahead of schedule!
After going to Hillsborough Community College Fire Academy at MacDill Air Force Base in 1988, Furnell became a part-time employee of Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue (then Indian Rocks Fire Department) and started full time in1989. He became an EMT in 1989 and has risen through the ranks as a firefighter/EMT and lieutenant to become a district chief in 2006.
When asked if he misses the military side of his life, Furnell says, “parts of it, when you get to go off on a mission with the guys, it’s cool.”
Although Furnell has had many experiences in his life, he credits his motivation and inspiration to his wife Lisa. “She is my soul mate and the reason I am the person I am today,” says Furnell.
They have been together for 21 years and she is employed by Raymond James.
So, as you can see, the diversity of skills and training of our employees gives our department a unique flavor and well prepares us for the unusual situations we encounter as members of Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue.