Safety first is firefighter's motto

Careers: "I always tell people I haven't figured out what I want to be when I grow up," says part-time sheriff's deputy, karate teacher and full-time fire-truck driver.

January 28, 2002|By Melissa Manware | Melissa Manware,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Irwin Carmichael uses a Palm Pilot every morning to figure out which uniform he needs to wear.

Carmichael, 37, has as many jobs as most people do meals a day.

He's a full-time Charlotte firefighter, a part-time Mecklenburg County sheriff's deputy and an eighth-degree black belt who teaches karate at several Charlotte area schools.

"I always tell people I haven't figured out what I want to be when I grow up," he said. "Each job has different rewards."

Carmichael sees a connection in all his careers - helping people be safe. He also uses what he learns in one job - especially law enforcement - to do the others.

He's been doing martial arts since he was 10 years old, and opened his first Kempo Karate school when he was 18. Now he owns a karate studio in Huntersville, N.C., and also teaches at private schools.

Carmichael, who grew up in Huntersville, always wanted to be a police officer, and went to the sheriff's training academy as soon as he was old enough. He got interested in firefighting after a karate student talked to him about the job and the schedule - most Charlotte firefighters work 24-hour shifts.

He's been a sheriff's deputy for 17 years and a firefighter for 16.

Carmichael works at Fire Station 25, which is less than a minute away from his northern Charlotte home. He drives and operates a fire truck.

In his role as a sergeant at the sheriff's office, he teaches defensive tactics to other deputies and the public.

More than 100,000 people have heard his program in the last 10 years, he said. He talks about personal safety, and in some classes teaches self-defense techniques.

"We call him our good will ambassador," said sheriff's spokeswoman Julia Rush. "He's done so much for the sheriff's office, the city and the county."

Carmichael has written a book on self-defense for women and made nine nationally released videos on self defense and safety. Much of the information in his programs comes from personal interviews with criminals, he said.

`Just let them talk'

Carmichael helped take the admitted triggerman in the Cherica Adams killing to Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C. He also rode in vehicles that took former Carolina Panther Rae Carruth and serial killer Henry Louis Wallace to prison.

"I do that to gain information that I can pass on when I do safety classes," he said. "You would be amazed at the information that comes up in conversation. I just let them talk."

Carmichael said Wallace told him he killed for the adrenaline rush. He said the convict told him he started out with petty crimes and worked his way up to murder. He also said he gained weight in prison so he could fight detention center officers.

Carmichael has also talked to muggers, rapists and burglars about how they choose their victims.

How to stay safe

He uses that information to tell others how to stay safe:

When someone breaks into a home, they usually take the first phone they find off the hook. Carmichael suggests keeping a mobile phone by your bed to call police in an emergency.

Criminals target those who look like easy prey. "Walk like you are the biggest, baddest person around," he says. He said people should walk tall and look suspicious-looking people in the eye.

Don't risk your life for property. He suggests giving up personal possessions without a fight. Don't try to pepper spray someone who wants your wallet or pocketbook. It just puts you in more danger, he said.

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