By Willie T. Smith III
The Greenville News
GREENVILLE, S.C. – Collin Pepperall is living his dream.
As a center for the Greenville Grrrowl, he’s making a living playing hockey. Although it’s not the National Hockey League, he has advanced to a level only a limited number of athletes reach.
At 27, Pepperall isn’t ready to give up that profession, but he is preparing for life after hockey.
For the last two months he has spent time at Fire Station No. 3 on the corner of Augusta and Faris roads in an attempt to prepare for a career as a firefighter.
“I’ve always heard him talk about it,” said Greenville Grrrowl general manager Ryan Stewart, a friend and former Pepperall teammate. “He’s serious about it.”
Although not allowed to take part in duties such as rescues and actual firefighting, Pepperall is spending 12-hour shifts at the station when his Grrrowl schedule allows. Much of that time is spent studying and asking endless questions of those surrounding him.
“Being in Greenville for a long time, I figured, ‘Why not start getting into it?'” Pepperall said. “(Greenville County) Chief (Tom) McDowell helped me out a whole lot. He helped me get into it.”
Before signing with the Grrrowl in the off-season, Pepperall already had begun to contemplate his next profession.
“When I was talking to Greenville, they said they’d help me get my foot in the door,” Pepperall said.
The pairing seems to be working for both sides. Pepperall is learning a lot about firefighting, and the pros enjoy having him in the station.
“He’s a nice individual, and he’s real interested in what we do,” said Capt Richard Mullinax of Fire Station No. 3. “He has fit right in with us. A lot of us out here are sports nuts, so (Pepperall’s being a professional athlete) didn’t hurt him any.”
Pepperall’s introduction to firefighting has been up close and personal.
“We’ll put him on the pumper or the rescue truck,” Mullinax said. “We’ll just let him go with us. He was on the truck when we had the ice storm a few weeks ago. He got a little taste of what it was like.
“Most of that night was power lines down and actually going from one call to another. I don’t know how many runs we made. But we started at about 3:30 that morning. By the time we got off the truck we had probably made 70 to 80 calls, and that doesn’t include the rest of the day after the day shift came in.
“He was right with us. When we went out, he didn’t get back to the station because we were going continuously from one call to another.”
Despite his hockey obligations, Pepperall has managed to make several 12-hour shifts. Shifts are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. If the Grrrowl have a game the following day, Pepperall will take a partial shift.
McDowell says the firefighters have noticed Pepperall’s determination.
“His interest and enthusiasm has really impressed the firefighters he has interacted with during his ride-alongs,” he said. “Because he has been involved in team sports virtually his entire life, it makes it very easy to transition into a job that is as team-oriented as firefighting. He’s fit right in.”
Pepperall also has been involved in public relations work for the Grrrowl at the station, encouraging the firefighters to take in some games.
“I’m trying to get them to Grrrowl games,” Pepperall said, smiling. “(Firefighter) Sam Stubbs came out with his family the other day and said he had a good time. Hopefully, I can get more out to the games because they’re doing a great job helping me.”
The station’s firefighters have given Pepperall several nicknames. One has stuck.
“They call me The Slasher all the time,” Pepperall said. “They always say when they come to games I’m always sitting in the penalty box ó which I don’t think is true. They’re great guys. They ask questions about hockey just like I ask about their jobs.”
Pepperall’s experience has done nothing to dampen his interest in firefighting. While unsure whether he’ll stay in Greenville, return to his home of Niagara Falls, Ontario, or someplace else, he remains determined to make firefighting his next career.
“The community of Greenville has given so much to me over the last years I’ve been here,” Pepperall said. “I see it as good for me because I can give back to the community, hopefully, one day as a firefighter. I’m doing as much as I can to accomplish that.”