Michael Thoms decided in high school he wanted to become a firefighter.
A baseball and football player at Dearborn's Edsel Ford High School, he wanted a career that was physically demanding while allowing him to help people.
Thoms' peers say he chose the right path — and he has achieved a milestone by earning the title of Canton Firefighter of the Year.
"I wasn't expecting it," he said Thursday, one day after he accepted his award during a ceremony at Canton's Summit on the Park. "It's definitely an accomplishment in my career. There's a lot of hard work that gets done in Canton. For me to get recognized this year is appreciated."
The day after he accepted his award, Thoms, 34, marked his 13th year as a Canton firefighter. He previously worked two years for a private emergency medical services company.
"Firefighter Thoms is an intelligent, courteous and open communicator, which is essential in this profession," said Christopher Stoecklein, Canton deputy director of fire. "When interacting with the community, fellow firefighters, other departments within Canton Township or consoling distraught families, Firefighter Thoms does it all with the utmost skill, tact, patience and professionalism."
Thoms won his award as relatives, including wife Kara and daughters Aria, 4, and Peyton, 2, were among a crowd attending the fire department's annual awards event. He didn't know he was Firefighter of the Year until he arrived at the Summit and his wife saw his name in the ceremony program.
"It was surprising," he said. "I work with a lot of great people I can learn from every day. It's a great family connection there at work."
Thoms is ready for what the day brings, whether it's using his paramedic skills or fighting a fire.
"Every day you're going into someone else's life," he said. "It's a new house, a new person's life. I have always been interested in people's stories."
Thoms also has participated in a department program in which firefighters take local children to retail stores to buy presents at Christmastime.
Stoecklein said Thoms has had "a considerable impact" on the department.
"An important quality of leadership is the ability to motivate people around you and to lead by example," Stoecklein said. "As a firefighter and the union president, Firefighter Thoms demonstrates these characteristics. Whether he's on duty or off duty he goes above and beyond his normal responsibilities to enhance the department’s commitment to providing the highest level of service."
Thoms is currently completing a lengthy process of becoming a department instructor coordinator, who is responsible for continuing education for every Canton firefighter. It's a critical component of the 65-firefighter department keeping its license as an advanced life support provider.
Stoecklein said Thoms "has a natural propensity to help others and willingly mentors probationary firefighters, understanding the importance of this task and how it may impact the future of the department."
Thoms has been in the spotlight before. He twice won the department's former Ironman Award for racking up the most 9-1-1 runs among all Canton firefighters. He last won that award for 2011, when he responded to 687 medical emergencies and fires in one year.
"I have a heart for helping people," he said then. "I just feel like I had a calling for it."
Some things don't change with time.
Firefighter Michael Thoms helps a child pick out Christmas gifts during a charity program by Canton firefighters.