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Disaster Prep and First Response

The Surprising Rewards Of Being A First Responder

Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Kerensa

Russ Mason knows better than most how rewarding a career as a first responder can be. He spent 38 years in communities around Missouri, going from volunteer firefighter in the 1980s all the way to fire chief in the 2000s. It was an impressive and fulfilling career that provided him with specialized training as well as with general skills that could be applied to numerous endeavors — skills he’d be ready to tap into in 2016.

He says, “The average career of a fire chief is three to five years, and I’d been doing it for 13. I was ready to retire, but not ready to quit working.”

His new path? Owner of a FastSigns franchise.

A grab bag of skills

A career switch from first responder to sign franchise owner is not as unlikely as it sounds; Mason had an interest in graphic design and printing. In addition, though, the training and knowledge that goes into emergency response is wide-ranging.

Through the years, Mason was required to become proficient in public speaking, negotiate contracts, develop relationships with community and business leaders, develop technology and training skills and be proficient enough in finance to manage a $12 million annual operational budget.

All of those skills, plus a background in graphic design from staging an annual golf tournament, are very useful as a small business owner. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but my computer skills, training experience and business leader interactions helped prepare me for owning a sign franchise,” says Mason.

A natural evolution

According to Mason, first responders tend to be innovative people with good communication skills that enable them to deal well with the public. Firefighters especially, he says, tend to be mechanically inclined and have side businesses that run the gamut from construction to retail.

For him, it’s a logical and rewarding transition. “Most of the time in the fire services we’re tearing things up. Now I find great satisfaction in creating and installing a sign.”

Jill Coody Smits, [email protected]

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