I was born in central Mississippi, to the parents of Mac and Jeanne Cotting. My older brother, Chris, was delighted to have a younger brother.
The house I was brought home to remained my home for nearly 16 years there in Jackson. One set of grandparents lived just 5 houses down the street while the other set lived across town. Much as any normal red-blooded American boy, I enjoyed playing as a kid. This included riding my bike, playing with the neighborhood kids, hunting, spending time with my dogs, playing with my army men, and playing in the dirt.
Because my parents wanted us to have the best education possible, they decided to send my brother and me to a private school, Jackson Academy, from preschool through high school. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be educated in an environment that encouraged learning and excellence. During those years I played soccer, sang in a chorus group, and became very active in the Boy Scouts of America. By the time I was a Junior in high school, I decided that I wanted to be a Mechanical Engineer.
The summer after graduating from high school, I had the life changing experience of going on a 10 day backpacking trek at Philmont Boy Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico. It was during these 10 days that I began to fall in love with the West and nature. It was also the first time I began to learn that hard work can be very rewarding. Hiking up mountains carrying a heavy pack was very hard work, but the view from the top was always worth it.
For the next year and a half I went to Holmes Community College. Here I took classes towards earning my Mechanical Engineering degree, and I also had vocational training using Auto CAD. Auto CAD is a computer program used by drafters to draw up plans for machine parts, buildings, and landscaping.
After completing pre-engineering classes at Holmes, I moved on to Mississippi State University. Engineering was a very difficult course of study. To break the monotony I used my little free time to get away from school. At my church, I participated in activities with the college group, and I sang in both the choir and ensemble group. I co-created a student organization at MSU called The Bulldog Hiking Club. The BHC helped educate students about outdoor stewardship and created many friendships with the trips we led. At Camp Seminole, a local Boy Scout Camp, I became a Project COPE facilitator. Here I took groups through a challenge course that was on the ground, 30 ft. up in the trees, and on a 65 ft. rappelling and climbing tower. The challenge course was more than just a physical challenge, it also challenged people mentally and pushed them to do more than what they thought they was possible of doing. COPE was also used to teach leadership and team building. For me, COPE did much to conquer my fear of heights and to facilitate good group dynamics. I also discovered that rappelling is about the most fun you can have off the ground.
Each summer while I was a student at MSU, I returned to Philmont to work on staff as a Ranger to help give to youth the same life changing experience that I had received. As a Ranger, my boundaries were pushed and I learned to become a better person through all the other people from around the country I came in contact with. I also learned to work well with customers and learned many people skills. As a Ranger, I learned what it meant to be the go-to person. Every group I took out looked to me to teach them how to have a successful trip. When emergencies happened such as people who became lost or injured, I once again became one of the go-to people.
It was also at Philmont that I met my wife Wendy. She was also a Ranger. She is now a pediatrician.
One summer a man by the name of Royal Robbins came to talk to the Philmont staff. Royal Robbins is very well known in the outdoor community for his climbing and kayaking achievements. He now owns his own clothing line. During his presentation, one of his comments made a big impression on me. He said, “Do what you love and love what you do. Everything else is just some form of slavery.” It was not long after that that I started realizing that there are some people that enjoy their life because everyday that they go to work, they are doing something they enjoy and something that they are passionate about. I wanted to be one of those people. I soon began to realize that I did not like engineering, and I certainly was not passionate about it. By this time, I was about to graduate. I knew it was too late to change majors, so I just stuck it out to finish what I had started.
Now that my dream of being an engineer was no longer a dream, I began looking for another career that I could be passionate about. I decided that since I loved the outdoors, maybe that is where I should go. So I began graduate school to obtain an MBA in hopes to start a outdoor equipment company. After about a year of this I realized that the world of business was not for me. Next I began pursuing a career in computers, another area that I enjoy. Once again I was not satisfying a hunger inside of me to be doing something valuable with my life.
While I was at a wedding for a friend of mine, who I had met through the Bulldog Hiking Club, I met his father-in-law Joe. Joe told me about the program he works for called AmeriCorps* NCCC. He believed that I had the necessary life skills to be a team leader with his organization. So I applied to the program hoping that this would help me to find some career direction.
Later that year I returned to Philmont one last time so I could do some work while I was waiting for my year of service with AmeriCorps* to start. More importantly, during my final summer at Philmont, I had witnessed the largest wildfire that New Mexico had experienced in its history at that time. The 90,000+ acre Ponil Complex Fire had started on Philmont property by lightening and burned about 20,000 acres on the ranch. Since Philmont held such an important part in my life I wanted to do something to help the ranch recover from this disaster. So I spent about three months at Philmont doing rehabilitation work to help vegetation reclaim parts of the ranch that had experienced 100% consumption.
After finishing my work with the forest fire rehabilitation program, I moved to Maryland in 2004 where I began my year of service with AmeriCorps* NCCC. Once again I found myself as the go-to person as I was leading 8 college age students around the northeastern United States performing community service for communities in need. AmeriCorps* NCCC works with projects in the areas of education, unmet human needs, environment, homeland security, disaster relief, and wildland firefighting. Our projects led us to Manhattan in New York City, rural New Hampshire, northern Maryland, northern Massachusetts, and hurricane disaster relief in Florida with FEMA.
Sometime during my service with AmeriCorps* I decided to follow my heart and go with firefighting as a career. At the same time, Philmont had shown me that I wanted to live out West. Colorado is a beautiful state so I moved there to begin pursuing my career as a firefighter.
In 2005 I moved into a house with 2 other Philmont friends to begin pursuing my dream to become a firefighter. A few days after moving to Lakewood, I began EMT Basic school at Red Rocks Community College. I had already been a wilderness first responder, so much of the class was a review. Once I completed the course and obtained my Colorado and National Registry certifications, I began working for Pridemark Paramedic Services as an EMT Basic. The majority of the time I was there, I did non emergent general transports. I was trained by the field instructor program to operate in Pridemark’s 911 system.
In March of 2006 I accepted a position as a probationary firefighter with the City of Aurora. After finishing their paid acadmey. I did my three months of truck time on Aurora’s Bronto Tower. I spent the majority of the rest of my probationary year on different engines around the city, mostly with Engine 4. My engine time was used to teach me the medical side of firefighting. Unfortunately, I discovered that I had a problem with anxiety that was unknown to me up until that point. This prevented me from being able to run the medical calls and perform sufficiently as an EMT basic. I resigned at the end of my probationary year as I was not able to perform sufficiently due to my anxiety.
Not being able to keep my firefighter position was very hard for me to accept. I spent the next year and a half going to a psychologist to determine why I was unable to perform as a firefighter. It was determined that I had difficulties with anxiety. Through counseling, I was able to conquer my difficulties with anxiety to the point that it no longer inhibits me.
After leaving Aurora Fire Rescue in 2007, I returned to Pridemark Paramedics as an EMT Basic to work in their 911 system on an ALS ambulance. My goal was to become proficient with medical calls so that it would not be an obstacle for me when I return to working with a fire department. I was able to work with some very good paramedics who taught me much about EMS. I became an excellent EMT Basic and no longer experienced paralyzing anxiety when on medical calls.
During my time living in Denver, I dated my wife who was living in Salt Lake City, UT. We made visits to each other’s home once a month and kept in touch during the time in between. In May of 2009 I proposed to Wendy and told her I would move to Salt Lake. We got married later that year, and I moved to Salt Lake where we bought a house together.
Since moving to the Salt Lake Valley, I have attended West Valley Fire Academy to get my Utah firefighting certifications and Paramedic School at the University of Utah.
Wendy and I have enjoyed our marriage and become parents to two dogs and two children. I have been continuing my pursuit of becoming a firefighter by applying to local departments and exercising to keep in shape. Some day I will get hired by a fire department.