Jim Dotson is a lieutenant and an emergency medical technician (EMT) at Station 26 in Gwinnett County, Georgia. He spends 24 hours on and 48 hours off, a schedule most firefighters have and a regimen he has followed for 22 years.
“I’m a little prejudiced,” says Dotson, “but I think most firefighters belong to a special breed. There’s a feeling of camaraderie among station mates. We’re together an average of 52 hours a week, sharing stories about families and lives while at the station, and then looking after each others’ backs when we’re out on a call. We’re almost like brothers.”
Like many of his firefighting buddies, Dotson fills in off days by mowing and maintaining lawns. In fact, the owner of Dotson Lawn Care in Cumming, Georgia, has been mowing and maintaining lawns for 11 years. He has 19 loyal customers, most on year-long contracts. In addition to providing weekly mowing, he prunes, edges, installs annual flowers, and picks up leaves in the fall. In his words, he does the “whole nine yards”.
Dotson started mowing lawns in 2000 after having several conversations with the station’s captain, who operated a lawn maintenance business and thought the work would be something Dotson would enjoy. Dotson did, and so would others. Firefighter Chip Vanderveen initially cut his mowing teeth by consulting with Dotson. Today he operates Shrubbs Lawns and Landscape and maintains 25 properties. Dotson’s station mate Mike Bieger, a paramedic and fire truck driver, owns Bieger Landscape Management, LLC and also started mowing lawns in 2000. He now has 35 customers and offers full-service landscape management, including weed control. One of the youngest firemen of the group, Kyle Doster, owns Doster Lawn Service. He started his business five years ago and now has 15 customers.
The firefighters share another common bond: They all use Walker Mowers. “I started mowing with a 37-inch Toro walk-behind, but occasionally borrowed our captain’s Walker Mower,” Dotson recalls. “I liked its maneuverability and the way it picked up clippings.” He has since found the mower to be ideal for “fine tuning” his customers’ Bermuda grass front yards, leaving Fescue backyards for his Exmark walk-behind to tackle. His enclosed trailer also houses a Honda walk mower for small patches of turf.
When Bieger started mowing, his propert
ies needed a manicured look and required the clippings to be picked up. He purchased a Walker Mower, later sold it to Doster, and purchased another one for his business. Vanderveen learned about Walker Mowers when conversing with Dotson. Now he is on his second one.
Three of the four mowers are equipped with 42-inch GHS decks and are powered by 26-hp engines. Bieger operates the only 23-hp Walker Mower with a 48-inch GHS deck. Three of the four firefighters also own Exmark mowers.
Long Season, Long Days
The Georgia mowing season begins in early April and goes until the grass stops growing in late-November, if not later. Leaf season, cleanup and pruning, however, keep mowing contractors busy year-round.
“We don’t compete with one another,” says Dotson. “We’re kind of spread out with some of us going north and others working closer in to Atlanta. Station 26 where Mike and I work is located in Sugar Hill about 45 minutes northeast of the city.”
Since they’re not competitors, the firefighters enjoy sharing notes about how to run a lawn mowing business. Having the biggest operation, Bieger gets most of the attention and answers a lion’s share of the questions. In addition to operating like equipment, including the use of enclosed trailers, every member of the group keeps their mowers, hand-held equipment, trucks and trailers in top running condition—not to mention spotless.
“The attention to detail comes with being a firefighter,” says Dotson. “We’re trained to keep our equipment in top running order. It just follows suit that we do the same with our mowing equipment.”
When asked to describe the most challenging aspect of operating his business, Dotson replies, “Not getting enough sleep.” As he explains, there are 24-hour shifts when firefighters go from call to call and really don’t get much rest. The next two days are for mowing before heading to another 24-hour shift at the station.
Indeed, these mowing contractors are members of an exceptional club. Yes, they’re all Walker Mower users and have an incredible work ethic. But more important than that, they’re doing a job only a few people can do, yet everyone depends on them when there’s an emergency.