MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
“Every day is a regular day for us, but when we get a call, that could be the worst day of their life,” said Lt. Rusty Duke, a lieutenant with Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Fire Station #1.
Duke, 37, from San Clemente, Calif., has experienced a lot in his 18 years as a firefighter. Starting from a humble beginning as a volunteer firefighter with the Orange County Fire Authority, Duke got his foot in the door in 2008 when he began his firefighting career working for the United States Forest Service.
After starting in his current position as a firefighter at MCB Camp Pendleton 10 years ago, Duke has been a valuable part of preventing and combating wildfires on base. In 2017, there were 231 fires on base, and of those 231 fires, Duke was involved in containing and extinguishing many of them.
Duke was first interested in firefighting after taking a career aptitude test in high school. When the test revealed he was best suited to be a firefighter, police officer, or construction worker, he decided firefighting was the best fit for him.
“I didn’t grow up going to fire stations and getting excited by fire trucks, but once I started looking into it, I realized this job was meant for me,” said Duke.
As a firefighter, it’s Duke’s job to control and extinguish fires as well as respond to emergencies where life, property, or the environment is at risk. Whether there’s a cat stuck in a tree, someone getting attacked by a shark, or even a baby being born, Duke or one of his fellow firefighters have been there.
“I’ve delivered babies on the side of the street, in cars, in living rooms,” said Duke. “To be able to say I delivered a baby, I brought a life into the world, it’s a pretty good feeling.”
As a lieutenant, leader, and mentor, Duke ensures his junior firefighters strive to broaden their knowledge and skillsets by training on swift water rescue procedures, trench rescue techniques, building-collapse scenarios and any other emergencies a firefighter may face.
“If it doesn’t require a gun to deal with, people expect the fire department to deal with it, and we do; that’s what we’re here for,” said Joey Araiza, a captain with MCB Camp Pendleton Fire Station #1. He has worked with Duke for 10 years. “There’s never a dull moment with Lt. Duke, and he wants the best for other people.”
As Duke looks towards a promotion to captain he hopes he can continue to leave a lasting impression on his junior firefighters so they can be more effective first responders. As a captain, he can assume more responsibility and maintain positive change within the MCB Camp Pendleton Fire Department.
“I want my firefighters to be better than I am; that’s the legacy I wanna leave,” said Duke. “Even if it’s just one person, making a difference in that one person’s life is a very rewarding feeling.”