Firefighting runs in Gwinnett family

Jordan Keough grew up the son of a firefighter and knew he’d follow in his father’s footsteps. He couldn’t have guessed that one day his dad would follow him to Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services, or that his brother would join them.

The Keoughs – Jordan; his father, Kevin; and his brother, Chad – exemplify a tradition that has made fire and police departments across the country a family business. Their experience shows how some governments embrace that tradition while managing the potential conflicts of having family members working in the same department.

Such conflicts have sometimes roiled fire departments. Last month an investigator urged the Los Angeles Fire Department to adopt new conflict-of-interest rules amid concerns that hiring had been tainted by nepotism. The city’s mayor raised concerns that hiring of favored insiders made it harder for women and minorities to get firefighting jobs, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In Gwinnett, all new firefighters must meet minimum requirements, and family members compete with other applicants, fire Capt. Tommy Rutledge said.

“Everybody has the same opportunity,” he said.

But some families are drawn to the profession.

Kevin Keough, 53, was a firefighter in Florida before moving his family to western North Carolina in 1993. There he drove a truck for a steel distributor and joined a volunteer fire department. Jordan took an early interest in the profession.

“I’ve known since he was 13 and he started as a junior firefighter it was going to be part of his life,” Kevin said.

Jordan, 32, moved to metro Atlanta and took a firefighting job in Gwinnett 12 years ago. A year later, at the urging of his son and a Gwinnett firefighter friend, Kevin joined the department.

Chad, 30, spent 10 years as a retail manager before joining the department last year. He’s finishing training and will soon be assigned to a station.

“I knew it would be something I’d be good at,” Chad said. “Whatever trait our family has helps us excel at this job.”

Rutledge said the fire department doesn’t allow relatives to work together or supervise each other. The Keoughs work at different stations and, usually, different shifts. They rarely see each other on the job, and when they do, it’s all business, Jordan said.

“It never changes the way we operate,” he said. “We’re still professionals.”

Rutledge said it helps the department to have employees of the caliber of Jordan who have relatives who want to work there.

“A lot of people think of it as a negative,” he said. “These guys are a shining example of how it can be positive.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.