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Owens brothers fight fires and crime

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Police departments and their neighboring fire stations can have a bit of a brotherly relationship, said policeman Matt Owens. There’s a lot of teasing and some sibling rivalry, but at the end of the day, they’re all on the same team, trying to protect and serve. Matt and his younger brother, Terry Owens, a firefighter/paramedic, know this dynamic all too well. They may not share a room anymore, but they do share the same jurisdiction as Arlington first responders.

Matt and Terry, the third and fourth of a family of four boys, moved to Northern Virginia when their father retired from the U.S. Coast Guard. Matt graduated from Woodson High School in Fairfax, and Terry, seven years his junior, later followed. At the time, neither saw themselves fighting crime or fires in the near future.

Matt, a parishioner of St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax, graduated from Florida State University in Tallahassee with a degree in trumpet performance and musical education, and worked as professional musician for a while. Terry graduated from Christopher Newport University in Newport News and worked in the environmental science field. “I thought I was going to save the world that way,” he said.

But with a father who served in the military and a mother who worked as an emergency room nurse, public service was never too far from their minds. “We knew the lifestyles we were getting ourselves into,” said Terry, a parishioner of Church of the Nativity in Burke.

Matt served as a volunteer firefighter for a time, “but I’m not a big fan of heights or fire,” he said, and later decided to become a police officer. Police work is “definitely more of a calling.”

Terry, too, re-evaluated his career after a few years. “I came to the realization, as clichéd as this may sound, that the only thing that really made me happy was helping people,” he said. “I went to the fire training academy and haven't looked back since.”

Both men enjoy the chances they have to help people in trouble, whether it’s a driver broken down on the side of the road or someone experiencing a health crisis. Terry still receives birthday pictures of a little boy he treated as a baby. “It's a cool feeling knowing that there is someone out there that is growing up completely fine because of what we do,” he said.

Their jobs have given the brothers some exciting opportunities and chances for collaboration. Matt joined the force several years before Terry, and shortly afterward Terry became a firefighter, Matt remembers responding to a call late at night, and seeing his brother already there performing CPR. More recently, Matt was on duty when he met President Barack Obama on the golf course.

The Owens also snagged a photo with the newest celebrity in Washington— the Stanley Cup. While he was shift supervisor, Matt received a call from the department’s restaurant liaison officer, who said the Washington Capitals hockey players were coming to a bar in Clarendon and needed backup.

Matt arrived in time to help escort the cup and Forward Tom Wilson to the rooftop bar. In the elevator, he took a quick photo.

“I’m not going to lie, it was probably my best career selfie in 16 years,” said Matt. He sent to it Terry, who came to get a picture, too.

The men also use their talents to serve the church. Matt’s children attend St. Mary preschool, and for a few years the brothers have given safety talks to the preschoolers. Matt occasionally plays his trumpet for the choir at the Cathedral of St Thomas More in Arlington.

The men agree that their Catholic faith is what enables them to come to work day after day. “It really does ground us,” said Terry. “We see a lot of things that can really upset you and there are ways to deal with it — some of them are healthy and some of them are not. Having that family structure at home and having the stability that the church cultivates really provides a healthy environment for us.”

“The stuff that I’ve seen, the stuff that I’ve been exposed to, without a sense of God and faith and purpose behind all this, I’m not sure I would still be doing this job,” said Matt. Father Robert J. Rippy, police chaplain and cathedral rector, is a great source of comfort and support for him and all the men, he said.

Matt’s hectic schedule can make it difficult to get to Mass on Sunday, but even on the job he’s close to God, he said. It’s not unusual for him to send up a prayer as he switches the sirens on. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018