ST. PETERSBURG — As soon as a fire broke out, a clock in Jackie Tapscott's head began ticking down. The onetime Lealman Fire Department captain knew that the decisions he made in the next two minutes could mean life or death for anyone inside or for those on his crew.
When someone died, it was often Mr. Tapscott who had to break the news to the family. He didn't shrink from it. He was a firefighter.
But before he had slung his first fire hose, Mr. Tapscott nourished another side — as a bass player in country music bands.
Mr. Tapscott, a firefighter and musician who protected and serenaded his wife and daughters, died Sunday. He was 75 and had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
"We see people on their best days and their worst, from giving birth to a baby to having loved ones die," said David Brown, a Lealman deputy fire chief. "He handled all of those situations, and always left the individual with dignity."
One of Lealman's first paramedics, Mr. Tapscott started in the mid 1970s and worked his way up to deputy chief for fire prevention. His 19-year career had its share of highlights, including his investigative work of a fire at the City Lites bar in 1993.
The City Lites case, which led to an arson and murder conviction, occurred after Mr. Tapscott and two other high-ranking Lealman Fire Department officials were demoted in 1993 over alleged mismanagement and safety violations. Mr. Tapscott's family maintains he was made a scapegoat and denied due process. He retired in 1994.
He was born in Danville, Ill., and was a paratrooper in the Army's 101st Airborne Division. He met his wife, Kathy, at the Straw Hat in Cocoa Beach, where he played in a band and she tended bar. They married in 1970, and both sets of daughters from previous marriages melded into one family. The couple moved to Gulfport, where he worked odd jobs and as a volunteer firefighter. He continued to play in country bands after hiring on at Lealman, listening for his pager the nights he was on call.
Whenever his wife was in the audience, the band struck up The Wonder of You, which Mr. Tapscott delivered in a sure tenor while gazing into his wife's eyes.
But all that love didn't gain Kathy an inch of slack when she left the coffee pot on, didn't turn off the Christmas lights at night or tried to run her sneakers through the dryer — all fire hazards.
Mr. Tapscott owned motorcycles throughout his life. After his funeral service, a Harley hearse will transport his body, decked out in a favorite cowboy shirt, to Calvary Catholic Cemetery.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.