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An open Letter to the Fire Service

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On Thursday, I was bestowed the honor of being this year’s Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year by the International Association of Fire Chiefs. What an amazing honor!

I did not grow up wanting to be a firefighter, but became one when one day almost thirty years ago, on my way to the beach in rural South Carolina, I witnessed a horrific accident when a car overloaded with teenagers swerved and rolled over multiple times right in front of my eyes.

As the first person on the scene, before the days of cell phones, I flagged down the next car to go to the nearest town to summon help. Remaining on the scene of what we would now refer to a multi-casualty incident with several Priority 1 Category A traumas without any medical training prompted me to seek out some medical training in order to never have to experience that feeling of helplessness again.

As a college student, I was happy to hear that free training was available by joining the fire department, and so my journey began. Having grown up in Italy, and having come to this country for better opportunities, I could never have imagined that my path would have led me to where I am today in the fire service.

Given my Roman heritage, with the Romans being the first firefighters in the civilized world, firefighting must have been in my blood, so I quickly developed a passion for emergency response. And what I learned was that it has to be something that you really want to do because the amount of training required to be the best when the alarm sounds is not something to be taken lightly.

I have had the pleasure of working with some of the best career and volunteer personnel side by side, and learned that it does not matter whether you get paid or not, but rather the enthusiasm and compassion with which you do your job that matters.

Firefighters and rescuers leap into action when our fellow men and women cannot take care of themselves and need us the most. If they called 9-1-1 it is because they have exhausted their capabilities for handling the situation, and we need to step in their moment of need; the grateful look in their eyes is what provides reaffirmation that the job we are doing is a worthwhile endeavor.

I also learned that it is not the position or rank that we hold, but what we do as people that defines us.

Anyone can make a difference in someone’s life by being there with the proper skills or heart in their moment of need.

I have been blessed to have had great instructors, mentors and supporters.

You will learn that you will need all of those to succeed.

You will also need a family with lots of patience to support you through the unexpected calls, such as leaving a child’s birthday party to fight a fire, and get you through the tough times.

You will also need to have faith in God for keeping you safe, and for giving you the mental toughness in the face of adversity.

This is a profession where you will see some of the worst situations facing our fellow human beings, and it is not for the faint of heart. In the end, it is an amazing honor to be part of the noblest fraternity of all.

I am grateful for this honor and look forward to keep serving my fellow men and women for as long as God will allow me. Be safe!


Herb Leusch

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