This time last year, I was just a firefighter. Now, I’m leading change across the state of Tennessee, advocating for people with special needs, and training first responders to recognize and more effectively interact with people with special needs in emergency situations. I didn’t ask for leadership, leadership was given to me – and that might be your situation too.
I never sought out to be a leader, but sometimes God has plans for our lives that we never see coming.
Finding out my wife was pregnant in 2010, then learning we were having a boy, was an incredible experience for me. I imagined all the Father/Son things we would do: riding bikes, playing baseball, and the like.
Then, we learned something that would change everything – our son was Autistic.
At the time, I didn’t know anything about autism, but I knew my dreams were shattered and our perfect little boy would never be “normal.” Rather than give too much time to sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves, we decided that we were going think about what was best for our son.
I stumbled across an article about autism and service dogs – Who knew that article would change so much for my family and our community?
The $15,000 price tag for a service dog was overwhelming, to say the least. My family at the fire department and our local IAFF union were excited to join us putting together a fundraiser to get my son what he needed. They were excited, and I was left in shock – Why would all of these people want to help my family, my son? Regardless of the why, they did it, raising all $15,000 in only a few months.
I knew I needed to give back – pay it forward – for the generosity my family received, but how?
With more than 13 years serving the community as a firefighter, EMT, and Paramedic, it hit me that I’d never received any training to recognize and interact with people who have special needs. That was it; I was going to train other responders to recognize and interact with individuals with special needs.
I’ve never taught a class before then, but God knew how he was going to use my family to make a difference for people with special needs all across the state. I spent a year working with a few people to develop the course, and in January of 2017, we started our SNAP (Special Needs Awareness Program) training program.
I didn’t expect what would happen next. Calls came in from all over wanting our class. The media showed up and pretty soon, representatives from the State of Tennessee.
The State Fire Marshal and the State of Tennessee Commission on Firefighting listened to my nervous presentation for about 10 minutes. Then, in an unusual move, the members of the committee voted in a unanimous decision – on the spot – that they would fund and see to it that every firefighter in TN would receive our training as part of all state-funded, in-service training.
From reading an article about service dogs to developing a class, all Tennessee firefighters would take, left me astonished, humbled.
My son’s service dog is a 15 month old golden lab named Cinna.
Even though I didn’t set out to be a leader, God picked me and because of that, has allowed me to help change others’ lives through a gift that I never knew I had. While I wish my son did not have to live with autism and the struggles that go along with it, I can see now that it has a purpose. God never intended for us to play little league ball or ride bikes in the park, God’s plan for us was much bigger, it just took a service dog for us to see it.
Your life, your experience might just be the launch point for your leadership too.
Question: What happened in your life that moved you into leadership? I’d love to hear your story and connect. You can leave a comment by clicking here.