Boonville’s Richard Howard fights fires by day and locks up criminals at night — no, he’s not a superhero, but he’s close.
Howard, 51, works 80 hours a week as a full time police officer for the Boonville Police Department and as a full-time firefighter for the Evansville Fire Department, all while trying to balance spending time with his new wife and step-children.
“I get up at 6 and go to the fire department and work a shift down there and as soon as I get off; I come down here and work a second shift,” he said. “So I’m working two full-time jobs every day. It’s 80 hours a week and I also work for an insurance company investigating fires. So I have a third part-time job.”
Howard, who was born in Columbus, Ohio, moved to Evansville when he was 5.
“I’ve lived in Evansville all my life until last February, when I bought a house in Boonville,” he said.
Although most people in Warrick County may know Howard as a police officer, he has actually spent the majority of his career as a firefighter.
“I originally joined the fire service in 1989 with the McCutchanville Volunteer Fire Department,” he said. “In 1991, I tried out for both Evansville police and Evansville fire, but I got hired first for Evansville fire.”
Although he has spent the last 27 years as a firefighter, Howard said his dream as a child was to be a police officer.
“You couldn’t get better jobs, especially back in that time, for the pay,” he said. “So, I took the first one that was available and made a career out of it.”
Although firefighting wasn’t his original passion, he’s still had a wonderful life.
“You know, the fire service has been great to me,” he said. “I raised children on it.”
Howard said his foray into being a police officer started in 2000 when he was promoted as a fire investigator for the fire department.
“So that’s where I got my first taste of the pseudo law enforcement,” he said, “because you know, we’re investigating crimes and working with the police department to try to get arsonists put away.”
By 2011, the fire service encouraged Howard to join the police academy.
“They decided that if we wanted to do a better job of pursuing the arsonists, that I should go through the police academy in Evansville,” he said. “So, I did that and became a fully sworn police officer in November 2012 on my 46th birthday.”
Before he started at the academy in his late 40s, he had let go of his dream of becoming a police officer.
“Once you become a certain age, those dreams kind of get put away — I never thought that this would ever happen,” he said. “So when the fire department brought this idea up, I jumped on it full force.”
Howard said he started working out like crazy so he could keep up with the younger cadets he would be training with, but ended up enjoying being the wiser one of the bunch.
“It was fantastic being older,” he said. “The first day that I walked in they thought that I was an instructor. And so that was kinda funny. And so once they got over the shock, I became kind of the dad of the academy and all.”
Howard said his relationship with the younger trainees worked out perfectly.
“It was always, ‘hey Rich, what are we doing tomorrow because we didn’t get it,’ and I always knew it,” he said. “I was just worried about going home afterwards and resting. Whereas the kids, the grown men, had other things they wanted to do at night.”
Howard said he was honored that his peers ended up voting him the president of the academy class that year.
“Those are lifelong friends,” he said, “all those guys still are.”
After graduation, Howard was hired by the Warrick County Sheriff’s Office.
“I worked with them for a year,” he said, “and then Boonville offered me a position and I took it. And I’ve been with them close to five years now.”
Howard said juggling both jobs hasn’t been easy.
He said his biggest worry is making sure he spends time with his wife, Sara, and his new family.
“I have other children, too — four adult of my own, and I try to stay active in what they’re doing,” he said. “And Sara has three of her own. Thirteen is the youngest, so I’m dad again.”
Although he loves both of his jobs, he might have to pick between them soon.
After 27 years with Evansville, I’m starting to slow down a bit,” he said. “I’m not as ready to get up and go to work in the morning, but with the police, I’m still excited to work, even after six years of doing this. I’m still excited to come in. I love every second of it and I haven’t found a bad thing yet.”
But, Howard said it’s physically becoming more difficult for him to do both jobs.
“So I’ll have a decision to make and I’m eligible for my retirement for the fire department,” he said. “If I had to choose right now at this point in my career, I would leave the fire department, keep doing police and keep doing investigation for fires because my expertise training is in arson, so I don’t want to lose that.”
Howard said he enjoys the brotherhood of men he’s found working with both the Boonville Police Department and Evansville Fire Department.
“Now of course, I get ribbing from both sides,” he said. “People will say, ‘oh does that bother you?’ And I love it. I can dish it out as well as I can take it.”
Howard said there’s always a little bit of jealousy between the police and fire departments.
“We always look at the other side thinking, ‘boy, they have it made,’ ” he said, “ ‘And the police make all the money and they have all the fun.’ And the police are looking at the fireman saying, ‘they sit around all day watching TV and working out.’ So that’s fun and I get to see both sides.”
All joking aside, Howard said he is proud of his dual career fighting fires and putting bad guys away.
“The chance to do both is an honor that not too many people get,” he said.