When Nick Signaigo, now 39, graduated from Mississippi State University in 2005, he entered a post-grad rut. He thrived during his collegiate years as a running back on the football team; adjusting to a demanding job in marketing and being confined to a cubicle wasn’t bringing him happiness.
“The shift from being a student-athlete to being at a desk all day was really hard on me.” The job was consuming, and Nick eventually realized that something was wrong when he was too distracted to talk football, his favorite subject, with his dad. “My dad knew before I did,” Nick says. “He told me that I needed to do something that would make me truly happy.”
After 11 years on the force, his passion for his work as a firefighter at the Germantown Fire Department Station 2 is undeniable. He started as a paramedic and was eventually promoted to his current role as the driver of Engine 92.“This is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Nick says. “I wanted to really make a difference in someone’s life.”
While Nick’s love for his job and fellow firefighters is strong, his love for his family is the driving force in his life. There’s an undercurrent of joy in Nick’s voice as he talks about his wife of 12 years, Lindsey, and three children— 11-year-old Halle, 8-year-old Nicholas, and William (20 months). “My family is my rock,” Nick says with pride. “My wife is the best mom, and I love being a dad to my kids.” He’s also close with his own parents. He and his dad own and operate a commercial cleaning company, Master Building Service Contractors, and he describes his mom as one of his biggest supporters.
Although Nick’s life is pretty close to perfect, the road has been paved with a few speed bumps along the way. In 2011, when his daughter Halle was three and his son Nicholas was a newborn, Nick went to the hospital for stomach pain and ended up having a kidney removed seven days later. He was ultimately diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma and began undergoing grueling treatments at West Cancer Center in Germantown.
“That was a really scary time,” Nick recalls. “There was the possibility I wouldn’t have a chance to get to know my own son, that I wouldn’t be able to walk my daughter down the aisle one day.” Nick knew that he had to stay strong in order to get through the challenge. “I had to stop myself from worrying and remind myself that no matter how bad this thing got, I had to beat it for my family.”
Since completing treatment in 2012, Nick has been in remission and values his health more than ever. “I love competing against myself as a form of stress relief.” His love of staying active keeps his relationship strong, and he jokes that his wife will send him to the gym to blow off steam if they get into an argument.
He’s also earned the head peer fitness trainer position for the Germantown Fire Department. “Peer fitness trainers are part of leadership’s efforts to change the culture of the job and maintain healthy EMTs and firefighters,” he explains. “We’re certified by the American Council on Exercise and act as personal trainers for the department.” Nick and his fellow trainers develop personalized fitness plans for the department based on individual needs.
The peer fitness training program does more than encourage department personnel to exercise. The initiative also looks to tackle deep-rooted health concerns in the firefighting industry, such as long-term exposure to carcinogens that can cause cancer. “Ten percent of firefighters in Nashville have cancer as a result of carcinogen exposure,” Nick says. “We want to bring light to that issue and ensure that our department is operating efficiently and reducing that risk of exposure as best as we can.”
Nick is currently working with the head of Human Relations at Station 2 to spearhead a Wellness Champions initiative that promotes physical, mental, and financial wellness throughout the city of Germantown.
Nick holds many titles, but there’s no question that he’s proudest to be a husband and father. Nick summed it up best himself, “The purpose of me being on this earth is to be a dad.”
By Lucy Harrison
Photo by TIndall Stephens