Serving the Community: Firefighter Tony Varella
For 46-year-old Tony Varella, fighting fires is all he knows…or wants to know. The son of a North Charleston fireman, Walter “Buzz” Varella, who died in the line of duty in 1973 when Tony was 6, one might think he would want nothing to do with fighting fires.
“It’s the greatest job in the world,” said Varella, “it gets in your blood.”
Varella, who just retired from the North Charleston Fire Department after 27 years, promptly applied to Isle of Palms, Goose Creek and Summerville fire departments. He accepted Summerville’s offer and he works part time for the Pine Ridge Fire Department.
“I retired, when I did, because of uncertainty with the retirement system,” explained Varella, who has a family to worry about – three kids, one of whom is starting college in the fall – so he wanted to make sure he made good choices with regard to retirement.
However, he could not imagine not working so having secured his retirement, he applied to other departments.
“I still wanted to continue serving,” he explained.
He has been with Summerville for seven months, and has quickly become part of the “brotherhood.”
A former division chief with NCFD, he has started over at SFD as a firefighter. Nonetheless, he brings years of training and knowledge with him, all of which benefits SFD.
He has been through the SC Fire Academy, is trained in technical rescue (structural collapse, search and rescue), has taken myriad courses in leadership, has mat (hazardous materials) and has an Associate’s Degree in Fire Science.
Varella has been married for 20 years to Lynn, a nurse practitioner, and is the proud father of three kids – Trace, 19, Claudia, 15 and Jason, 13.
In his off time, he works 24-hour shifts with 48 hours off in between, he coaches his kids’ various teams. Ensuring year-round coaching, he coaches football, basketball, baseball and softball.
He is also the proud “dad” of three dogs – two miniature dachshunds, Hershey and Chili, and a Dalmatian, Landry. Landry, the quintessential “fire dog,” used to go to work with him at NCFD but not here. NCFD has a fenced yard where Landry could relax and Summerville does not.
Varella has seen a lot throughout his career. He has had close calls and he has been hailed a hero. He is the recipient, along with his team, of the Lifesaving Award in 2000, for saving a woman from a Houston Street house fire in No. Charleston. As part of a search team, he helped carry a woman from her burning house and administer CPR, saving her life.
He has plans to give 10-15 more years to firefighting, “as long as my health holds up,” he said.
Varella loves “spending time with the fellows, laughing, cutting up …making memories.”
“It’s all about building relationships,” said Varella, “we see a lot of stuff most people don’t see, and you don’t know when your life will be in their hands.”