1. Tell us about yourself and why you decided to join the fire service
My name is Brittany Brown and I recently transitioned from the public sector to become a full-time professor at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond Kentucky in the Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology and Fire Investigation tracks. I just left the Lovington Fire Department in Lovington, New Mexico where I served as the Fire Marshal and Training Officer. Over the years I have also worked as a Deputy State Fire Marshal for the State of New Mexico, Investigations Bureau, Deputy State Fire Marshal for the State of Texas, Inspections Division, Clovis Fire Department as a Fire Investigator, all while working as a volunteer firefighter and now Training Captain/Training Officer for the Farwell Fire Department in Farwell, Texas. I currently teach for The National Fire Academy, The New Mexico Firefighters Training Academy, The Fallen Firefighters Foundation, The Southern California Safety Institute, and the Forensic Fire Analysis Institute. I previously spent 10 years in the United States Air Force as a Flight Mechanic.
My original plans didn’t include the fire service at all! I was an aircraft mechanic that later transitioned towards flight safety and aircraft accident investigation where I specialized in aircraft crashworthiness and survivability. Not knowing enough about fire, I ended up at the fire department in my town of Clovis where I hoped to learn more. I ended up loving it and finished my enlistment to work full time within the fire service.
2. Who or what has inspired you as a fire instructor?
I started teaching while I was still in the Military, naturally, as I transitioned to the fire service I wanted to keep teaching. I was lucky to have a ton of great mentors when I first started, they really helped me fall in love with the profession and develop the passion to try and keep it going, by continuing to teach. While I was very young in the fire service I learned that the people around you are what make the job not only enjoyable but possible and that collectively, we have such an important role to spread this education out and share it. I was able to work with some of the best instructors and mentors around namely Jeff Broom, Milo Lambert, Allan Silvers, Bill Famer, Clint Williams, Joshua Baca, Kelly Johnson, Greg Gorbett, Rick Qualls, and Rick Allen to name a few. With their teachings and guidance, I was thrilled to initially have the opportunity to teach, as they had taught me, and still love to teach today.
3. What are some things you are working on in your department and how can others learn from that?
Working with the City of Farwell for many years and the City of Lovington, both of which are smaller departments, Farwell as a full volunteer department and Lovington as a career, smaller municipal department I have learned that you can in fact do more with less, you just have to work harder. Being the Training Officer at both of these departments, although very different, I realized that they had a lot of the same issues, issues with safety culture, motivation, and namely funding. Mostly through shrew stubbornness, I found that good training doesn’t have to be expensive. With clear policies, procedures, and structure, good morale isn’t often far behind. It simply often takes someone putting in the effort, often a lot of effort, to get things going, get them off the ground and give the department something they can look forward to. This process, as I have often learned the hard way is not initially accepted because in the fire service the only thing we don’t like is change, and how things are. Accordingly, we found a way to be financially responsible by building what we couldn't afford, and borrowing what we couldn’t afford to buy. From there it just took effort, simply putting in the time in to make something that eventually is embraced as progress within your department. In some cases, it just takes one person to push forward to initiate change and instill buy-in. Overall, what can be grasped from my struggles as a Training Officer, if you see your vision towards progress, stick to it, and don’t give up all while knowing that the road between here and there will be difficult.
4. Tell us about a project or training accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career
One of the things that I have loved most over the years is teaching at the New Mexico Firefighters Training Academy and watching my curricula grow over the years. When I took over the curriculum for the fire investigation and inspection tracks, they were good for the time, but needed a bit of work and definitely an update. Eventually, we switched to a more updated curriculum for both, added standardized JPR-specific skills, enacted more hands-on activities, and curtailed the structure and schedule to meet the needs of our students. With my course coordinator at the Academy, Joshua Baca, we completely revitalized and updated all four classes within those two curriculums making them academically competitive beyond the State of New Mexico. Upon completion of all of these updates, minding that they took almost two years to complete, I was so proud to finally teach these classes that I had worked so hard to create and leave New Mexico with a good product that I knew even in my absence during my move to Kentucky would continue after I left.
5. What do you hope to accomplish as a fire service instructor? When you are gone, what do you want people to remember you by?
Although not tangible, I want to hopefully create a generation of not only instructors but active learners within the fire service. I hope that those that I have taught over the years continue to learn and teach others so cumulatively we can become and stay a more educated, and safer fire service. Overall, I hope to continue teaching, my goal is to always work to remain progressive within the field and address evolving safety concerns proactively to ensure adequate dissemination of information
When I am gone, I would want people to remember my heart, I truly love the fire service and my job. I would want people to remember my stubbornness towards getting it right and my passion to learn and teach as much as possible. Most people would likely remember me for my almost endless energy with a never-give-up attitude, that along with my stubbornness to make sure that whatever agency I am working for is not only doing but giving their best.
6. What is the biggest change you have noticed in the fire service since you started?
One of the biggest changes that I have noted since joining the fire service is the greater emphasis on safety, this of course is a welcomed change. A great acceptance of both physical, mental, and spiritual health concerns is being addressed, which rightfully so. I am glad that within the fire service we are getting better at taking care of our own, everything from ensuring team cohesiveness, to clean-cab procedures. As the years progress the calls aren’t going to get any better, I am proud to see within the fire service that we are taking care of each other better. I am also excited to see the prevalence of research addressing evolving health concerns and cancer risks in first responders as well as proactive mitigation measures that we can take.
7. What is something that most people don’t know about you
I love to fish! Pond, lake, river, ocean, doesn’t matter. I have travel rods that I take almost everywhere I go, and have fished in almost all of the states and places that I teach. When I worked as a New Mexico State Fire Marshal I covered the bottom half of the state, I kept a fishing rod, reel, and tackle in my truck so that if I had time I could fish!
8. If you could choose your title (other than the generic Training Officer or Firefighter) that uniquely describes you in your position, what would it be and why?
I don’t know if I would choose any other title than those I currently have! During my last Firefighter I and II Academy I was given the name ‘fire mom’ by my cadets, I did not necessarily want that one, but it stuck. I embraced it because I enjoyed watching them grow and learn from recruits to cadets. Today, I am so proud of each of them, but I can see why they named me that, I used to hound them to study, make sure they were eating well and taking care of themselves, and push them to the point I knew they were capable of, even if they didn’t know it at the time.
9. And finally, what advice do you have to give another instructor or to somebody who is just starting out as an instructor?
Know your stuff and have faith in yourself that you do. The rest will follow. To be a good instructor you need to stay relevant which means always learning! Be a leader beyond the classroom, you should be more than a good firefighter, you should be a good person, be mindful that someone is always watching and that your actions will reflect upon you. Accordingly, be someone that you would want to be, be passionate about your craft, be kind, never stop learning and never be afraid to admit that you were wrong.