By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Joshua Parks wanted a summer job cutting grass a year ago but ended up in a city mentoring program called “Plant a Seed.”
Assigned to work with the Tupelo Fire Department, Parks spent his afternoons for eight weeks during the summer cleaning Fire Station 1 downtown, painting and inspecting fire hydrants and training in search and rescue techniques.
Spending time around firefighters, he saw firsthand the importance of their job and how important training for critical moments can prepare them to save lives.
But Parks didn’t give the profession much thought as a career for him. The Tupelo High School graduate planned to attend college and eventually coach football.
But the summer job encouraged Parks to develop more self-discipline and motivation to help others.
“It’s the way I was raised,” said Parks, 19, whose father is a minister. “I’ve always been around when people needed help.”
After a short stint at a small Oklahoma college with intentions to play football, Parks’ thoughts about firefighting changed. He began to prefer the idea of wearing a firefighter’s uniform over shoulder pads and cleats. When he received a letter from the city of Tupelo saying his summer job was available this year, he jumped at the opportunity.
Serendipitously, tryouts for a full-time firefighting position were held on June 1, the same day he would have started his summer job.
In Plant a Seed’s three-year history with mentoring young residents in departments throughout city government, Parks is the first participant as a full-time employee.
“He’s a natural leader,” said Romeco Traylor, Tupelo Fire Department fire training officer. “Those are the qualities we’re looking for.”
Traylor works with the Plant a Seed participants and believes Parks represents the best case scenario of what the program can achieve, turning a younger generation on to careers in public service.
With Parks, the training officer noticed how the then-high school student interacted well with others, encouraging others when they struggled and never hesitating to complete his work. His background in a team sport also made him a good fit for the culture within Tupelo’s fire department.
Instead of just earning summer spending money, Parks spends time preparing to attend the state fire academy and continuing to make the department and his family proud. His brother, Clarence Parks, worked as a fireman in Tupelo before his current position of fire chief in Moss Point.
The older brother said Joshua’s decision to choose the firefighting field will create more opportunities.
“If you work hard and have a sense of integrity and listen, you can most definitely excel,” Clarence advised his brother in a recent phone call.
Joshua already has plans to advance his firefighting training after the fire academy. He wants to attend related classes at Itawamba Community College to advance his firefighting knowledge as he gains more experience in the firehouse.
Parks said he also plans to pursue opportunities to help others.
“I’d like to help with the Plant a Seed program at some point,” he said. “This is honorable work.”