Thirteen Lakeland rookie firefighters started their training on Monday. Among their number are a Marine and a former NFL lineman.

  • Clint Mitchell played for the Florida Gators, Denver Broncos, and Kansas City Chiefs
  • Antonio Apolinar joined the Marines after 9/11, served tours in Iraq
  • New firefighters begin with month-long orientation at training center

One of the new hires is former Florida Gator defensive lineman Clint Mitchell. After stints with the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Storm, Mitchell initially hit the road as a seafood salesman.

However, Mitchell said he missed the physical part of football, and the camaraderie of being part of a team. He decided he wanted to help people and be part of a team again, so he chose firefighting.

"These are all my teammates," said Mitchell. "We are all rookies. It's like we are all out here at training camp getting ready for the next day.”

Former Florida Gators and NFL defensive lineman Clint Mitchell chose firefighting as his new career to help people, and to be part of a team again. (Bay News 9)

Another member of the rookie team is Antonio Apolinar. He was a 17-year-old New York City resident in 2001 when terrorists attacked the Twin Towers. As soon as he could, he joined the Marine Corps and served tours in Iraq.

Part of his team’s mission in Iraq was to win the battle for hearts and minds. In one case, that meant giving candy to children.

"So at that moment in time I felt like what I was doing and why I joined the Marine Corps was, in a way, working," said Apolinar.

Apolinar told us he decided to become a firefighter partly to be a hero to his 9-year-old daughter.

"Because in her eyes, I am everything to her," said Apolinar. "I am her hero and I just want to live to that expectation."

According to the Lakeland Fire Department Facebook page, the orientation that Mitchell, Apolinar, and the 11 other new hires started Feb. 6 will last for a month at the department's training center on Granada Street.