The Biggest Honor in the Fire Service

What is the biggest honor that you have ever received in the fire service? From a medal of valor to recognition for 20 years of service, the fire service hands out many reminders of good times and good work.

Recently I received the biggest reward my career; it wasn't a medal for heroism or a life saved, it was seeing my first protege sworn in as a firefighter.  Sharing a moment in time to celebrate a young man’s journey into the world that we all care so much about was amazing. 

I’d like to take a moment to share the story and how you can pay it forward.  There is no doubt that the biggest honor in the fire service is seeing your guidance followed, understood, and rewarded.

The story of how I got to this point has been covered many times on and could go down in the record books as a textbook success story. It is about a man with a passion that needed direction.  There are many folks out there just like me who are looking to serve their communities as firefighters, but they just need the map. Some 20 years ago I received mine, now it seems like my eyes stay open looking for the person whom I can pay it forward too. 

This opportunity doesn't come around often for a mentee. When you find someone that takes a vested interest in you and directs you to your future we need to grab a hold with two hands. While this journey has its ups and downs trusting, the mentor while following their direction is the job of the protege. When the time comes for the follower to be the leader, will you be ready to step up?  Stepping up is what happened to me four years ago when I found the next "Ryan."

It’s sort of funny how people come into your life and immediately change the future. Meeting Firefighter Carl Price is even more of a chance meeting that when I met my mentor.  He was a young high school kid with a personality that lit up the room. College just wasn't in the picture and he was looking toward a career in the fire or EMS service. Long story short, Firefighter Price took my advice word for word and four years later I had the honor of watching him become a firefighter.

Just like my chance meeting with my mentor and my first mentee, I want to ask: who are you going to help achieve their dreams? Paying it forward is a responsibility of us all in the fire service. We should be on the constant lookout for the person who has the passion, determination, and motivation to fill our shoes.  From the street-level firefighters to the chief of the department we should be monitoring closely to discover the untapped resource of young energetic folks looking to serve.  

Let’s look at a few tips in finding a good protege:

  • Look for passion
  • Watch them interact with others
  • Listen to their concerns
  • Assign a simple task to complete

We should always be looking to train our replacement in the fire service. Constantly searching for the one or two firefighters that we can take a personal interest in should be a bigger focus as we can only concentrate on a select few. If you are a firefighter you owe it to the people who helped you to pay it forward as the debt we owe is great. Trust me, there is no greater honor than help guiding a person into the greatest job on the planet.  When they walk up to you and say, “I could never repay you” and “you have changed my life” you wipe away the tears and tell them “it has been my honor”. 

Welcome to the fire service Firefighter Price, job well done. 

  • See Ryan Live! Blogger Ryan Pennington will be presenting "Hoarder Homes: Piles of Hazards for Firefighters" at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, July 23 - 27.