Jason Tillman has come full circle from childhood including watching fire trucks to achieving his dream of becoming a firefighter and retiring after leading his hometown’s fire department.
A small crowd attended a reception Thursday at Colbert Commons where Tillman was recognized and honored for more than 20 years of service, 18 of that as fire chief, for the City of Forest. Tillman has 26 years overall during his career in public service.
Tillman, a Forest native who is leaving the department to pursue a career in nursing, said his passion started as a kid growing up on Pine Ridge, now Old Highway 21, with his friends.
“Every time we heard a siren, we would run to the top of the ridge to watch the fire truck go by. It was then that I became infatuated with fire trucks,” Tillman said with a smile, noting one driving by. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
After graduating Forest High School, attending Jones Junior College and the University of Southern Mississippi, Tillman asked then fire chief Paul Weems about becoming a firefighter in 1995. Tillman also became a certified police officer, but the fire service was his deeper passion. He was working for the Reservoir Fire Department when Mayor Nancy Chambers asked him in 2004 to become chief in Forest.
“It has been a great career, a joy, primarily because I have served a majority of people who I know here in my hometown,” Tillman said.
Tillman credited the city officials and fellow firefighters for their support, also referencing how the mayor and board of aldermen always backed him when he made requests.
Pointing to his wife, Joni, and children Reese, Cali, and Sam, Tillman noted how his family sacrificed much to his career, his missing holidays, and everyone listening to a fire department radio in their home.
Pointing to his staff who Tillman said made him look good, “these are some of the best guys in the state who care about the community. They come in and perform their jobs to the best of their abilities and that’s top of the line. They love their jobs. They are the ones who keep response times so low, they’re the ones who run into a burning house, and they trust my judgment,” Tillman said.
Mayor Chambers said the fire department reflects the work Tillman, often referred affectionately by many as J.T., has put into it through a lifelong passion.
“From his earliest days, J.T. has been an asset to the City of Forest, not only doing his job, but always going above and beyond whatever was needed to see that his job was correctly done,” Chambers said. “We have one of the finest fire departments of a city our size under his leadership. Excellence of those under his supervision was always expected. It has been a pleasure to work with someone of the caliber of J.T., who without a doubt will be one of the finest nurses.”
In addition to city employees and many residents, others attending to thank Tillman for his service included law enforcement, fire, and medical emergency personnel from surrounding communities and agencies.
Tillman concluded the event expressing his appreciation to everyone for their support.
“It has been an absolute honor and privilege for me to serve the people of Forest,” Tillman said. “It has been a heckuva ride and a dream come true for this little guy standing at the end of Highway 21.”