WASHINGTON – Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Captain Donnell Troy has served as a firefighter for 29 years. Being a first responder isn’t new to Captain Troy; his father served as a first responder for nearly 30 years.
“I want people to know our job isn’t easy,” black fire captain says
Despite the family connection, Troy initially wanted to become an architect. In his last year of high school, he researched architecture programs but wasn't sure if his family had the financial means for college. His counselor suggested a program that trained young men to become firefighters. He grew up in the firehouse and decided to give firefighting a chance.
In his nearly three decades years of service, Troy worked his way up the ladder, eventually gaining the title of captain. He recently moved to DCFD Engine 28 Truck 14 in Ward 3. Troy has been awarded Company of the Year and Life Savior of the Year five years in a row.
Jesse Dubun, a firefighter of two years, said, “he’s very easy to work with and a hard worker. The best thing is to have a team that cares about you, as much as you care about them.”
Troy said he is grateful to continue doing his work, but said getting there wasn't easy.
Despite growing up in a firefighting family, the position didn’t fall in his lap. He and his partners studied five times a week from April to August for the state exam.
“It’s one thing to be in power. It’s another to be in power while being, you know … Black. There will always be a black and white issue, which comes from any individual but until they want to stop it, nothing will change.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, only 7.9% of firefighters are black, compared to the 81% who are white.
Being a minority in a workplace, Troy said that one of the hardest parts of his job was getting his coworkers to view him as the same.
“We all will have to do our job as one, so there’s no need to be separate,” Troy said.
“You have to genuinely care about people, you have to think quickly and have to know if this is something you really want to do,” Troy said.
“I think it takes a lot to do this job, but even as a black man you have to understand that there will always be someone looking out for themselves and not others, but that’s with any job,” he continued.
Troy emphasized that people wanting to become firefighters should be prepared well before graduating high school.
He continued saying, “I get a lot of people with the wrong mentality, and I don’t think it's their fault, especially our black boys. I think the school system failed them, but I know I can help them and my team knows the true meaning of this work and what it means to be a first responder.”
Josh Lord, an 11-year veteran firefighter, said, “he is a great veteran of the department.”
When asked what was next for himself, Troy stated that retirement was nowhere near the future and he does not know what he would do without firefighting.