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Loss leads man on path to becoming firefighter

Posted at 11:28 AM, Jun 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-13 14:28:00-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Paul Steusel is no stranger to the medal podium.

After decades of competing in rowing and track and field events, he usually walks away from tournaments with extra hardware.

And that’s been the case at this year’s U.S. Police & Fire Championships, which is an Olympics-style competition held in San Diego.

“It’s always nice to get medals, that’s a part of it and it’s fun to compete and just to have the opportunity at my age to compete, I’m thankful for that,” Steusel said.

But Steusel’s story didn’t start at a tournament -- it began decades ago when he decided to join the Carlsbad Fire Department.

Steusel said a fire in his family’s home in Michigan not only changed his life forever but ended up becoming the motivation needed to become a firefighter.

“We all got out, but my mother didn’t, and she died in the fire. And when my buddy got into the fire service, I thought that’s what I wanted to do,” said Steusel.

Throughout his time with the Carlsbad Fire Department, Steusel responded to hundreds of calls, but the assignment that sticks with him to this day is being sent to New York after 9/11.

He added, “Five days after it went down, we took our Class As with us, and during the day we went to memorial services, at night we went to Ground Zero.”

Steusel said that took a toll on him mentally, emotionally, and, years later, physically. So much so that he ended up retiring early from the Carlsbad Fire Department.

He would spend the rest of his career working for the fire department at Disneyland before his focus would be on fitness competitions.

Now, at the age of 80, Steusel said he has no plans of slowing down, just working harder to reach his goals, hoping to motivate others to do the same.

“My encouragement to the younger firefighters -- men and women -- get involved with this competition. It’s fun … you can make relationships with people that last a lifetime and it’s just great,” Steusel said.

Visit to learn more about the United States Police & Fire Championships.