CLAREMORE, Okla. -- A firefighter escapes from the stresses of his job by picking up a paintbrush and creating detailed works of art.
Darrell Simmons began working for the Claremore Fire Department 18 years ago. He took the job after serving four years in the U.S. Navy. His friend suggested that he take the test to become a firefighter, and he said it was one of the best decisions he's ever made.
"The job itself is very satisfying," Simmons said. "You get to help people, and the guys that I get to work with are top-notch guys. I love those guys like brothers."
Despite the fulfillment that the job provides, he said he uses his passion for painting as a way to deal with the pressure that comes with his day job.
"There's a lot of stress," Simmons said about firefighting. "In the past couple of years, we've had some pretty stressful situations, and, yeah, this really is a getaway."
He said his love for art started when he was a kid.
"(There was) a lot of doodling and not really paying attention to what was going on in class," Simmons said, laughing.
He said he got a scholarship to study art in college, but he left to join the Navy. He, however, kept drawing and decided to pick up a paintbrush about a decade ago.
"My grandfather painted. My mother painted," Simmons said. "I thought maybe I should try to paint, too."
Much of his work includes detailed portraits of wildlife, like wolves and owls, as well as images reflecting his Cherokee heritage.
"It's another reason why I feel these paintings are part of me," he said.
One of the paintings he's most proud of now hangs in the Claremore fire administration building. It depicts three firefighters in full gear about to spring into action and put out some flames. Despite providing inspiration from time to time, he said he appreciates how little his day job has in common with his hobby.
"I would say they're almost complete opposites," Simmons said, "so it's a nice balance."
Simmons said he knows he cannot work forever as a firefighter, so it's comforting to have a timeless talent like painting.
"One of these days I'm going to be retiring from the fire department," he said. "I can't really do that forever, but painting is something I can do forever. I wouldn't mind spending every day painting once I retire."
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