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Alumni Stories: Saving Communities through Firefighting

By John Robert Morton, Student and Affairs Liaison, and Ryan Burgess, AMU Graduate

Growing up in Washington State, Ryan Burgess developed a strong sense of community and teamwork, which was further enhanced by three years in the U.S. Navy. After his time in the Navy, Ryan studied clinical massage and injury treatment, but soon figured out that it wasn’t for him. Ryan says, “I realized quickly that I didn’t want to be a massage therapist!”

After some volunteer experience with a local fire department, he became dedicated to community service that ultimately led him to seek work in firefighting. As a part of his educational journey, Ryan chose to seek a bachelor’s in fire science management from American Military University (AMU), graduating in 2022.

Ryan observes, “AMU was attractive to me because of its reputation among other military servicemembers. Also, the classes in the fire science degree program aligned with my professional goals.”

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Inspired through a Firefighting Call

During a dinner with his family, the talk turned to future jobs and his stepmom asked if he had ever considered working for the fire department. She thought Ryan would be good at firefighting and recommended him to a relative who worked for South King Fire Department in Federal Way, Washington. Ryan contacted his Uncle Jeff, which ultimately led to a “ride along” so that Ryan could experience the fire department’s response to a 911 call.

Ryan also did a ride along at Woodinville Fire, which inspired Ryan to pursue becoming a professional, full-time firefighter. The Woodinville Fire involved a structure call, and that 911 call changed Ryan’s life forever. The crew and Ryan found their seats, the crew donned their gear and the truck made its way out of the fire station’s bay, sirens blaring.

Speeding across town in the firetruck, Ryan could not help but feel the excitement and adrenaline of racing down the road. It was at this moment that Ryan thought, “This is what I want to do every day for the rest of my life!”

The call turned out to be a false alarm and ended up getting canceled. Ryan says, “Either way, it did not matter. That call still sealed the deal for me.”

Not long after that first ride, Ryan began an EMT certification program. He looked for volunteer jobs at local fire departments and got picked up by Arlington Fire as a part-time firefighter and EMT.

Ryan spent six years with Arlington Fire Department before moving to a private ambulance company. Later, he worked for Boeing Fire Department and Shoreline Fire Department. Shoreline Fire Department was known in the area as one of the most aggressive old-school fire departments around, and getting a job there was difficult.

The interview process was tough, as Shoreline Fire Department looks for experienced and dedicated professionals. Ryan approached the interview with confidence and professionalism. Ryan says, “I think it was this attitude that set me up for success because I was not nervous, and I killed the interview!”

One month later, Ryan was called for a chief’s interview and was offered a job the following week. He was among four people chosen to work at the Shoreline Fire Department out of 300 applicants.

Today, Ryan is now a fire marshal, after serving as one of four deputy fire marshals. Ryan notes, “Shoreline Fire Department has been amazing, and they have helped with my education at AMU. I feel very blessed to work for an organization that values higher education and look forward to the next 15 years.”

Related link: Knowing Your Community Is Critical in Disaster Management

Off-Shift Hobbies

Although Ryan’s job keeps him busy, he enjoys his free time as well. Ryan says, “Most of my free time is spent catching up on all the things I need to get done. Also, my wife, our kids, and I spend a lot of our summers camping and boating on the east side of Washington State.”

Ryan also likes working in his yard and garden, building, playing guitar, and taking care of his chickens. Along with his youngest son, Ryan fishes in many of the Northwest’s lakes and rivers.

Advice to Future Students Who Wish to Get into Firefighting

Ryan says, “The fire service has not always been an easy career to get into. Depending on where you live, competition can be fierce, and it is not for everyone! Focus on prevention rather than extinguishing fires, and be ready to adapt to the next stages of fire prevention preparedness.”

He also notes that the fire service has changed drastically since he joined it 15 years ago. Ryan says, “Like many other countries around the world, fire prevention is starting to take a front seat, rather than a back seat. The goal is to stop fire incidents before they happen and be proactive rather than reactive. This approach has become evident in the many conferences I attend each year that highlight the importance of public education, inspections, and tracking of existing fire systems.”

He adds, “The prevention side of the fire service is growing immensely. The firefighting work performed around the country is truly making a difference and saving lives every day.”

About the Author

John Robert Morton is a Student & Alumni Affairs Liaison and has been with the University for 13 years. His bachelor’s degree in European history is from Troy University in Troy, Alabama. He also completed master’s degrees in political science and sports management from American Military University. As a liaison, John Robert enjoys helping students and alumni to achieve their personal and professional goals.

About Our Department

The AMU and APU Alumni Affairs Office is dedicated to sustaining lifelong relationships with university alumni by supplying engaging opportunities to stay involved and connected. We work closely with a variety of stakeholders to strengthen the alumni experience and to offer a variety of benefits, services, activities, and events throughout the year.

As a team, the Alumni Affairs team works to build and sustain relationships with alumni along their personal and professional journeys. We actively look for ways to recognize and highlight alumni, telling their stories to motivate and encourage students in the pursuit of their goals.

If you are a member of the alumni community and are looking for ways to remain actively involved, please contact and speak with a member of the team.

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