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Letter to the Editor: A Fireman’s Fire Chief

"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious." - Vince Lombardi

Prior to serving under Chief Lanier Swafford, I had never looked to Coach Lombardi for motivation, until I stepped in to Chief's office and saw Lombardi's quotes lining the walls, alongside Chief's countless degrees, awards, thank-you letters and certifications.

Chief Swafford literally changed my life. He made me believe in myself...He demanded it, and directly ordered that I believe in myself.

He led my brothers and me from the front, and was the human embodiment of true servant leadership. This came natural to Chief, as he was a fireman's fire chief. This is something many fire officers and fire chiefs tell people about themselves. It is something that many instructors try to teach, and many leaders can't wrap their minds around. In my humble opinion, if you have to brag on yourself and tell people how you lead, you may be trying to make up for some short comings. Chief Swafford never told us how to lead, he showed us.

Chief Swafford lifted his men and women up, and put them before himself, every time. You always saw him doing it. He would never have to tell you he was doing it. If you were lucky enough, like me, you served alongside Chief. We felt protected, proud, and trusted that he would be there. In my years of service with Chief, he never asked us to do anything that he would not do himself.

From the stormy nights where, instead of staying in the safety, warmth, and comfort of his home with his family, he attempted to sleep in a recliner in the day room at Station 1. He cooked for us, and demanded that we rest. He refused to use a bunk room for himself. He knew we were likely to be risking our lives cutting trees, on iced or flooded roads, fighting fire, extricating patients from cars and running medical calls throughout the night without stopping. Each time the bell rang, he would be up with us, telling us to be careful as we were climbing in the trucks.

To the time I was injured, and he carried me.

My wife received a phone call from him on the day of my surgery, asking to notify him and Chief Dooley when the surgeons were finished operating on my knee. When we pulled in the driveway, Chief was there, to carry me. He carried me, like the brotherhood always talks about, so that my wife didn't have to. He did not talk about caring for his firefighters; he showed it.

To the times we were offensively fighting fire, aggressively, from the inside, and I felt a hand on my shoulder with a loud, proud, but muffled, "Great job BC, keep pushing brother!" And to my surprise, my Chief was packed out, covered from head to toe with insulation, sheet rock, and soaking wet, doing work, and leading us from the front.

To the times that I failed multiple trials at goals I wanted to achieve, and he hopped up in the back of the ambulance with me, shut the doors and had a conversation with me that I will never forget. He lifted me up and reminded me, like Coach Lombardi would, "The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall." He again, carried me, like the "brotherhood" and other officers claim to. He picked me up, brushed my shoulders off, and again demanded, he commanded, that I believe in myself.

To the times he would trim the hedges at Station 1 on yard day while we cut the grass in sweltering summer heat. He would not give up his tool, or stop when we asked him to. "Boys, this is my stress release," he would say. "You need to hydrate anyway, go drink some water," he would tell us.

"Pride and Ownership." Another buzz-phrase popular to fire chiefs and officers, but quite rarely actually lived out and displayed. Chief Swafford lives and breathes pride for his department, his firefighters and his paramedics.

From one man to the next, he knows the names of our wives, children, parents and families. He knows where they work, what they do, where we live and our situations, because his door was always open. He prayed with us, prayed for us and stayed up at night worrying about us. His door was open when you had family struggles, when you had medical issues or were struggling mentally. His door was open.

To the times when we faced the nightmare calls that will scar us all forever. The faces and names, burned, bloody and mangled bodies that we will never forget, for the rest of our days. He was there with us, at 2 a.m., to hug us, dry our tears, wash away our "failures" and demand that we lift ourselves up, and to understand that sometimes, it's out of our control.

Chief Lanier Swafford, you will always be my chief. No matter where you go. No matter what you do...You will be my Chief, my brother, my friend. I love you sir, thank you for leading us, loving us, fighting for us, and serving us. May we all take pride and ownership over you, and carry you, like you did for so many of us.


Brandon Carey, BS, NRP

City of Milton, Firefighter / Paramedic 

Dawson County Emergency Services, Part-time Firefighter / Paramedic 

Lanier Technical College, Part-time Paramedicine Instructor