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Suffolk names top firefighter

It may be common to forget the advice of those who speak at high school graduations, but Andrew Kitchen remembers his own — and he has a successful career because of it.

“I was a volunteer [firefighter] right out of high school,” Kitchen said. “I just decided to make a career out of it.”

At his graduation from Southampton High School, the speaker — he doesn’t remember who it was — gave the eager graduates some career advice, as high school commencement speakers so often do.

“I advise you to find a job that you like so much you’d do it for free,” Kitchen recalled the woman saying.

Kitchen realized that he already did a job for free that some people got paid for. Soon afterward, he went to work for the Suffolk Department of Fire and Rescue in 1999.

Eleven years later, the move has paid off with a high honor — he recently was named Suffolk’s “Firefighter of the Year.” Honored alongside him is Paramedic of the Year, Lt. John Thrush, who will be featured in the Suffolk News-Herald later this week.

Kitchen was nominated by Capt. William Kessinger, who said Kitchen “goes above and beyond his duties everyday, taking great pride in his job and his total commitment to the department.”

Kitchen said he feels honored by the award.

“I’m grateful that somebody thought that much of me,” Kitchen said. “Anything like that, you never really do anything by yourself. If you’ve done something good, it’s all because of teamwork.”

Kitchen is assigned to the fire department’s rescue company, which is responsible for any type of rescue — such as confined space or vehicle rescues — in the city. He signed up for it because it was a challenge, he said.

“That’s what I really enjoy about fire service,” Kitchen said. “It’s something different. We’re responsible for a lot of knowledge and taking all kinds of different challenges.”

Kitchen, who is assigned to Rescue One at Station 1 on Market Street, graduated from Hampton Roads Fire Officer Command School in 2007. He is certified as Instructor II, Officer II, Rope Rescue Technician, Trench Rescue Technician, Confined Space Rescue Technician, Vehicle Rescue Technician, and holds instructor certifications in vehicle rescue and farm machinery safety and extrication.

“Those of us assigned to rescue have to be well-versed in all kinds of things,” Kitchen said. “It’s a different kind of knowledge.”