For 40 years, Pasadena Fire Department Firefighter-Engineer Keith Holloway has been answering the calls of community members on the worst days of their lives.
Holloway, 63, marked 40 years as a Pasadena firefighter on Tuesday.
“Keith Holloway is an outstanding individual who has contributed to the success of the Pasadena Fire Department for the last 40 years. His years of service represent his strong allegiance to our great community and to the fire service overall,” Pasadena Fire Department Interim Chief Bryan Frieders said.
“Keith Holloway represents everything good about public service, including courage, commitment, and professionalism. I am proud to serve alongside Keith and the incredible staff that make up the Pasadena Fire Department,” the chief said.
In his four decades putting out fires and conducting rescues in Pasadena, where he has lived since the 1970s, Holloway said he never considered going anywhere else.
“This place gave me a life, so I’m giving back to the place that gave me a life. So when I go on these calls, that’s my house that’s on fire, that’s my mother that’s not breathing, that’s my kid at the bottom of the swimming pool,” he said. “When we come off this rig, we’re not playing.”
Quoting an old firefighter saying, “When God runs out of angels, he calls us,” he said. “We’re their last hope.”
Holloway works at Station 36, which is one of the department’s busiest, according to city spokesman Lisa Derderian.
“I love action. I love excitement,” Holloway said. “I have purpose. I was very fortunate to find this job.”
After growing up in Compton and South Los Angeles and working as a mechanic, Holloway moved to Pasadena with his family in the 1970s.
He was about to leave his home to go to a recruiting office in 1978 to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps when his mother told him he had received a message from the city of Pasadena, where he had applied for a job as a sanitation worker. He ended up accepting the city position.
“My original plan was to get to the motor pool and wrench on the big trucks,” Holloway said.
But after two years working in sanitation, upon encouragement by colleagues and firefighters, Holloway took and passed the test to become a Pasadena firefighter, which he described as “an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Holloway has seen many changes as the field of firefighting has evolved over the years.
When he first began fighting fires in 1980, “all of our vehicles back then were open cab,” he recalled. And none had automatic transmissions.
Firefighting protective equipment has evolved from a simple helmet and jacket to full hoods and multi-layer turnout coats, he said. And technological advances such as thermal imaging have also helped reshape modern firefighting.
A longtime martial artist and 5th-degree black belt in Tai Kenpo, Holloway once subdued a fleeing robber who had just snatched a purse from a woman near Fire Station 33 with a “leaping round kick” to the ribs in the mid-1980s, he and colleagues recalled.
Despite the purpose and fulfillment he’s found in firefighting, Holloway said the calling is not for everyone. Not every victim can be saved, which takes an emotional toll on first responders.
“It weighs on your heart very heavily sometimes when you don’t win,” Holloway said. Part of being a firefighters is “learning to accept defeat when you’ve done everything you could possibly do.”