Army Master Sgt. Tom Farrington serves as a member of the Indiana National Guard and as a firefighter with the Indianapolis Fire Department. Indiana National Guard photo illustration by Army Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Runser
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Face of Defense: Guardsman Balances Firefighting, Military Service
By Army Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Runser
Indiana National Guard
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 4, 2017 — At Station 15 on Prospect Street here, just east of Fountain Square, is a man who, for almost 20 years, has dedicated his life to serving his community and his country. Before Tom Farrington volunteered at the Indianapolis Fire Department, he had already spent nearly 10 years in the Indiana National Guard.
“When I joined the Indiana National Guard in 1988, my initial goal was to pursue a college education,” said Farrington, now a master sergeant in the Indiana Guard. “I also wanted to be a helicopter pilot, so I figured the best way would be to start out as a turbine engine mechanic.”
After discovering his less-than-perfect vision would prevent him from becoming a pilot, he shifted his interest in another direction. “I spent six years as a helicopter mechanic,” he said, “then went to Delta Company (Long Range Surveillance), 1-151 Infantry Regiment, where I spent the next 20 years.”
Having served in the long-range surveillance airborne unit since 1994, Farrington sought to explore a career with the Indianapolis Fire Department to take the skills he learned through the Guard and use them to serve his community as well. Recognizing that the two careers are very similar, he said, it was a natural transition from soldier to another form of service – firefighting.
Years of consistent physical training prepared Farrington for this career.
Standing at nearly 5 feet, 10 inches tall and roughly 180 pounds, his brawny stature is impressive for someone half his age. In a loose-fitting, fire-retardant jacket, he would appear to most as average; however, beneath the uniform is a 48-year-old who still maxes the Army Physical Fitness Test.
“I’ve known Tom for over 15 years. He can do it all. He’s able to fix a vehicle, build a structure, lead an ambush, … obviously, put out fires. He’s a jack of all trades,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Josh Harveth, who Farrington served with in Company D, 151st Infantry Regiment.
Farrington is not alone in serving his city, state and country.
“Although Tom is one of many firefighters in Indianapolis who also serve their country in the National Guard and Reserve, he is a shining example of the commitment and integrity shown by those drawn to a life dedicated to service,” said Chief Ernest Malone of the Indianapolis Fire Department.
Many children dream of serving on the fire department, but wasn’t always a goal for Farrington. He pointed to his own life as an example of how a person can evolve over time.
“You know, I never really grew up thinking I wanted to be a firefighter,” he said with a grin. “It really happened by coincidence. “I had worked a lot of construction before becoming a firefighter. I was everything from a rough carpenter to construction superintendent.”
He liked the idea of working full-time for the military, though and started to work on temporary orders. “At one point, a bunch of guys I was working with said they were going to apply for the fire department,” Farrington said.
At that time, he added, he knew very little about the fire department and decided against applying. “A couple of them got hired, and I started to realize what a great opportunity it was and how synonymous it is with serving in the military,” he said.
Service is in Farrington’s DNA. His father, a decorated Army Special Forces officer who served in Korea and Vietnam, along with several clandestine missions, found his calling by accident as well.
“My dad, Jim, was drafted for the Korean War,” Farrington said. “He ended up making a career out of it, though. One thing led to another and he went to Officer Candidate School, got his commission, went to Airborne and Ranger school, then eventually ended up in Army Special Forces early in its inception.”
His father has always been a role model in his life, Farrington said. “I used to think my dad walked on water,” he joked. “Honestly, I thought that until I was almost 30.”
Farrington’s son, Sam is a recent graduate of the U.S. Army Airborne School, marking three generations of paratroopers in the family.
“One of the proudest moments of my career was going down to Fort Benning and pinning my original wings on Sam, then my dad pinning his original sterling silver wings on him,” Farrington said. “Just to be there with my son, it was a great day.”
Service is more than just an obligation for the Farrington family; it is a lasting commitment to their community and country.
“Not only does he serve his city, he has instilled the call to duty in his children, most notably Sam,” Malone said. “The example shown by him and his wife, Debbie, also an IFD firefighter, will only help to reinforce the holistic importance of family and service.”
Farrington said his experience over the years and the support from his family have allowed him to dedicate his life to service. Every person has reasons for choosing to serve, and for Farrington, it’s about the community, camaraderie and family.
“Being able to serve in both capacities is very important to me,” he said. “The most significant thing I have learned from both the military and fire department is working with people from all walks of life. It really has helped as a firefighter here in Indianapolis, as well as a soldier at my unit.”