Keynoter Paul Combs: 'Build It!'

In his keynote “Build It!” at FDIC International 2019 on Wednesday, April 10, at the Opening Ceremony Day 1 in Indianapolis, Lieutenant Paul Combs from the Bryan (OH) Fire Department said: “It’s been nearly 20 years since I attended my very first FDIC. It was the first time I had been outside of my area to experience firefighters from departments big and small, volunteer and career. But that’s the beauty of the FDIC culture: It’s family coming together after a long year apart and giving each other that FDIC embrace! Brotherhood at its finest!

“However, it was the Opening Ceremony my first year that changed my life. That morning, Chief Rick Lasky gave a keynote address about having pride in yourself, in your department, and taking ownership of both. As I sat and listened, I looked around to see if the floor was shaking for everyone else—because it was for me! I had never met Chief Lasky, but I knew that someday I wanted to be just like him; I wanted to make a difference with my passion.

“Now, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I am not a dynamic speaker. And I can’t move mountains with the written word. But what I can do is draw; that’s my tool–that’s how I can make a difference. And so, my Drawn by Fire journey began, right here, on this stage! And I can’t think of a better gift to give somebody than to inspire them to follow their passion.

“Leaders like Chief Lasky have inspired so many with their passion. And just like he had no idea what he was starting in me that day, you never know the impact you’ll have on the lives of others, and you never take that opportunity for granted.

“Sometimes it’s the little things we do that make the biggest impact in the lives of others. We all love going to the structure fires, the car accidents … those are the sexy things we get to do as firefighters. But it’s the small calls that mean the most. It’s going on a lift assist because Mrs. Johnson doesn’t have the strength to pull herself back up onto her bed. It’s going out at 3 a.m. and setting a family’s mind at ease because their smoke detector is chirping and they
don’t know why.

“Sometimes it is the smallest of gestures; a kind word: Hey, brother, how are you today? Good morning, sister. Say it and meaning it!

“It’s teaching a skill from the tailboard of the truck. And sometimes it’s on the national stage–speaking to hundreds or thousands of nameless faces, but you do all of this knowing you could change a life.

“You know, it has been said that we are standing on the shoulders of greatness. I believe that’s true! Each of us were handed a brick when we started our fire service journey. We were handed this brick so we could build upon the wall that those who came before us began; to make it stronger, taller, longer; to add to its beautiful legacy of service and dedication.

“I believe it’s our sacred duty to leave the fire service better than we found it--and we found it pretty damn good, yes?

“So, let me ask you: What will your legacy be? When it’s all said and done and you’ve walked out of the firehouse for the last time, will there be a void left in your absence? Will you be missed? Will you have earned a hallowed place on your firehouse walls?

“Passion! We owe nothing less to the hundreds who made an impact in our lives. They took their brick and placed it on that wall and said, Give me another! And I dare each of you to live up to their legacy–just as I dare myself each and every day.

“Most days, I fail–but I never stop trying because it’s my duty to use my brick whether it be with a nozzle, a ladder, a saw … or the tip of a pen!

“It’s about PASSION and the LEGACY we leave. We were all handed a brick when we entered the fire service. Some of us took it to the wall, placed it in mortar, and asked for another. Some of you are still carrying their brick, not sure what to do with it. Some laid their brick down
and walked away. I am handing you a brick today; what will you do? What will be your legacy be? Build on that wall!

Paul Combs is a lieutenant and a 23-year veteran of the Bryan (OH) Fire Department. He is a firefighter, NREMT-B, and hazmat technician. He’s an instructor for the Bryan Regional Fire Training Academy, a presenter and H.O.T. assistant instructor at FDIC International, and an instructor for the Ohio Fire Academy. He is the editorial cartoonist for Fire Engineering and