When Utica resident Ben Brown was a kid, he never imagined he’d one day grow up to be the fire chief in his hometown – let alone become the youngest fire chief in Utica’s history.
“I actually wanted to be a meteorologist when I was a kid, but thanks to a friend of the family who suggested I start volunteering with the fire department in high school, things changed,” Brown said. “We had a tornado go through town in 2004, and that’s when my focus shifted. I realized I wanted to be a part of a fire science/paramedic program in college.”
Brown was named the Utica fire chief in 2013 when he was only 26 years old and just six years after getting his associate degree at Joliet Junior College. In addition to working in his hometown, he also works full-time for the Bloomington Fire Department.
As fire chief in Utica, Brown has a number of responsibilities, which include safety code inspections, conducting meetings, reporting to the Board of Trustees, and managing the budget.
He attended JJC thanks to a program that allowed him to pay in-district tuition since his local community college, Illinois Valley Community College, did not offer a fire science program.
Brown believes that without the instruction and guidance from his professors at JJC, he would not be where he is today.
“I loved coming to JJC. It was awesome to learn from the instructors – guys who had been on the job for years, and teaching from their own experiences,” he said. “The relationships that you build and the connections you make at JJC – not just the professors, but your fellow students too – it’s really cool. Fire science is a family. And that’s how I felt when I was at JJC. We were making those family connections before we were even out in the workforce.”
Brown said his most influential professors were Duane Stonich, fire science instructor and head of the program, Wes Thomas, emergency services instructor, and Bill O’Hara, emergency services instructor.
As fire chief, Brown has also learned a lot on the job. In the two years since he’s held the position, he’s had to wear many hats.
“There is a lot of responsibility that goes with the job because there are lots of things always happening,” he said. “You have to be on your toes. It’s a big commitment, but I love it.”
Brown doesn’t know what his future holds yet, but as of right now he plans to continue striving to be the best firefighter that he can be.
“Every day when I go to work it’s different. I love volunteering with the community and working with firefighters and paramedics,” he said.
In addition to firefighting, Brown also volunteers for his church, the Boy Scouts of America, and the New York Says Thank You Foundation.
His advice for fire science students just starting out is simple.
“Go to school every day and pay attention to your instructors. They have a wealth of knowledge that will stay with you the rest of your career. Take as many classes as you can and train every day,” he said.
For more information about fire science and EMS, visit http://www.jjc.edu/emergency-services/Pages/fire-science-info.aspx.