Austin discovered his passion for firefighting by accident. Seeing a neighbor’s land blazing‚ he rushed to help. After the volunteer fire department arrived‚ he was able to assist them in getting the fire under control and when it was time for them to go back to their station; they invited Austin to come join them for their weekly meeting. After that night‚ there was no looking back‚ he was hooked. He knew without a doubt that he was going to spend the rest of his life as a firefighter.
During the short year that he served with the Noonday Volunteer Fire Department‚ Austin’s passion grew. He worked alongside seasoned firefighters and first responders‚ participating in vehicle extrications‚ fighting structure and grass fires‚ and planning his future. Because of his background in scuba diving‚ he intended to become certified in rescue diving so that he could use his skills to save lives in more ways than one. His mother Tracey Bales recalls that during their last conversation‚ she saw the light in his eyes and the true excitement in his face as he talked about going to school and becoming a career firefighter. He was on his way to the fire station and couldn’t wait to get there. During the early morning hours of August 3‚ 2007‚ Austin entered a house that was fully engulfed in flames‚ alongside his captain‚ Kevin Williams. It was there that they died‚ side by side.
Austin is remembered for his winning smile‚ his great sense of humor‚ and his strong handshake. Many have talked about their first impression of Austin as he firmly gripped their hand and looked them in the eye as he introduced himself. They could always see how genuine he was. He loved all of his parents‚ his sister and brothers‚ and his fiancee; T.J. He loved children‚ he loved firefighting‚ and he loved his friends. But more than anything or anyone‚ Austin loved Jesus Christ‚ and he had no problem sharing his faith with others.
Although he is missed terribly by his parents‚ grandparents‚ siblings‚ nieces‚ aunts‚ uncles‚ cousins and many friends‚ we realize that‚ although Austin’s time with us was brief‚ it was a true gift from God. His life started as a miracle‚ as his family had waited so long and prayed so hard for him. Even though those of us who loved him the most saw him as a boy‚ the world saw the real man that he became.