Leadership qualities earn young firefighter annual honor
Chris McClendon views his work as a volunteer for two local fire departments as more than another part-time job.
“It’s definitely a lifestyle,” the 22-year-old Tonganoxie man said. “It’s more than a job — 100 percent, it’s a lifestyle.
“You have to come down here to make sure the truck is ready to go. If you go to a fire in the middle of the night, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to go to work the next morning.”
McClendon has been a volunteer firefighter with the Tonganoxie Fire Department for just more than two years and has had the same position with the Reno Township Fire Department for more than a year.
His commitment to serve on two departments while working a 40-hour-a-week job with a Kansas City, Mo., tool and die company speaks to his dedication and ambition as a firefighter. It is a commitment that others have noticed.
McClendon was honored as the Tonganoxie Fire Department’s firefighter of the year at the department’s annual banquet Dec. 10.
Tonganoxie Fire Chief Dave Bennett said he and the department’s officers selected McClendon because of the example he set to other new firefighters.
“For being a young firefighter, he has taken a leadership role with the younger guys,” Bennett said. “He’s helped guide the younger generation with how we do things.
“He’s an extremely hard worker. A lot of people don’t know after we have a fire call, we have two-and-a-half hours of work back at the fire station. He is always one of the last ones to leave.”
It’s work that has to be done, McClendon said.
“It’s kind of routine,” he said. “You’ve got to get the truck back together before you can go on the next run.”
It was work he didn’t anticipate when he joined the department, McClendon said. As a green rookie, he didn’t realize just what would be involved, he said.
“I knew we would fight house fires, but I had no idea what we would be doing,” he said. “You never know what you are going to do, from running on a car wreck to helping somebody who has fallen down.”
Routine jobs are enjoyable because of the bonds he builds with other firefighters and the calls rewarding because he is helping others, McClendon said.
“I always like to go out and help people,” he said. “Obviously, that’s part of firefighting. I like the rush of fighting fires. But at the same time, you are helping people.”
McClendon has completed firefighting 1 and 2 and two hazardous materials courses and finished classes for emergency medical training, although he hasn’t yet taken the written test needed for certification. Once he passes that test, he will be eligible to work paid shifts for the Tonganoxie Fire Department.
His goal as a firefighter goes beyond that accomplishment.
“I’d like to maybe work my way up to be a full-time firefighter,” McClendon said. “I’d like to grow into more of a leadership role. We have lieutenants, captains and chiefs in the departments. I’d like to be an officer one day.”
Those are realistic goals, Bennett said.
“I told him at the banquet he has what it takes to make this a lifelong career,” he said. “He’s worked extremely hard, and he’s getting more education.”
McClendon said he has no idea how many hours he gives the two fire departments each week. He is careful to ration time for his wife, Jessica, and will have to make adjustments when the couple’s first child arrives in May, he said.
But his wife, the daughter of Tonganoxie firefighter Bill Derzinski, understands the commitment required of a volunteer firefighter and is confident he can manage the risk involved.
“She’s pretty happy for me doing it,” he said. “She wanted me to do it all along. I really didn’t have anything in mind, so I agreed to go for it. I decided I like it.
“It’s something I’m going to try to stay with.”
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