FDIC International 2019: Interview with Paul Combs

Steve Pegram, Paul Combs, and Bobby Halton

R-L: Steve Pegram, Paul Combs, and Bobby Halton. At FDIC International 2018, Paul Combs received the ISFSI George D. Post Instructor of the Year Award. Photo by Tim Olk.

FDIC Conference Director Diane Rothschild recently spoke with Lieutenant Paul Combs, Bryan (OH) Fire Department, who will give his keynote “Build It!” at the FDIC 2019 Opening Ceremony Day 1, about the whole FDIC International “experience.”

RELATED: Paul Combs Illustrations

DR: How long have you been teaching/attending FDIC International? 

PC: I attended my first FDIC in 1999 and have attended 16 since. I gave my first FDIC presentation, called “The Art of Making a Difference,” in 2014 and also was an assistant instructor for Jim Crawford’s H.O.T. evolution “RIT Combat Drills.”

DR: How did you get into instructing in general? 

PC: I took my instructor knowledge test on the same day I became eligible in 2000 because it was something I aspired to from my first days as a rookie. I admired my instructors and wanted to be part of that world of teaching and molding the next generation.

DR: What sets your experience at FDIC International apart from attending other conferences? 

PC: I have had the opportunity to attend and experience many different conferences, and FDIC stands alone as the one conference where you truly get an opportunity to learn from the very best of the best the fire service has to offer. Other conferences offer good material, but FDIC offers a Super Bowl experience that will leave you in awe but never lets you forget that you are a student first and that education is the primary goal. 

DR: What was your reaction to being selected to keynote at the Opening Ceremony? 

PC: Honored! My career combining art and firefighting started when I was inspired by Chief Rick Lasky during his FDIC keynote, so I am excited that I might be able to pay that inspiration forward to a new generation of firefighters.

DR: What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the fire service today and why?

PC: As with the nation, the fire service is mirroring the incivility and intolerance to differing opinions that grips our country—especially through social media! We use the term “Brotherhood” loosely and without gravity, at times, when we need the literal meaning of brotherhood and sisterhood more than ever. Firefighters have always been a spirited lot, and that’s a good trait, but we need to remember that brotherhood means family, and family is blood, regardless of our differences.

DR: What is your “takeaway” from a week at FDIC International? 

PC: Perspective. It becomes easy to settle into one’s routine or become disgruntled by the day-to-day issues that surround our fire service—a man stranded on an island. Like so many others, I look to FDIC to recharge my batteries of hope and excitement and to expel the notion that I am walking this path alone. We laugh, we hug, we train, and we work out the world’s issue all in a week’s time. There’s no experience quite like FDIC, and it’s an experience everybody should have at least once in their career.

DR: Who are your FDIC International role models and why? 

PC: I was among thousands in the audience the day Chief Rick Lasky gave his keynote address on Pride and Ownership, and it was life changing to say the least. I credit him as being the spark that set my career as an artist and a firefighter down its current path—something I’m sure he’s tired of me telling him. Since 2000, I have had the privilege of meeting many people who would shape my life and in so many ways still do: Mike Gagliano, Jim Crawford, Mike Dugan, Jerry Tracy, John Norman, Frank Viscuso, Billy Goldfeder … and, of course, Bobby Halton. Chief Halton recognized my potential from the first time I met him after he took the reins of Fire Engineering, and he began the conversation that would eventually land me in the magazine and FDIC. I am proud to say our handshake agreement is 10 years strong!

DR: What advice do you have for first-time attendees? 

PC: Listen more than you speak, and revel in the opportunity to grasp the amount of knowledge and experience around you. Learn from your instructors and presenters, of course, but networking after hours is a priceless experience. Pay attention when you find yourself in a group of seasoned firefighters who are telling stories and talking tactics at a local bar or restaurant. Be a sponge and soak up the experience, the spectacle, and the personalities that have shaped the fire service landscape … because some day it will be you!

Keynote Presentation: Wednesday, April 10, 2019, 8:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m., Indiana Convention Center, Sagamore Ballroom 1-7.

Keynote: “Build It!”

What will you do with the brick you have in your hand? In this keynote, Paul Combs will encourage the audience to embrace the past traditions and culture of the fire service while focusing on the future leaders who will be tasked with building on what has been given to them with sweat, tears, and sacrifice.

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 fireengineering.com.

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