A year of challenge leads to a moment of reward

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

Fire Chief Paul Henley had just gotten back from Fannin Elementary on Friday morning, where the young students honored his most recent recognition with a variety of signs and banners. Henley spoke of how much he enjoyed the experience as he walked over to a small table to show his latest honor: The Texas Fire Chief of the the Year Award, presented to Henley on April 6 at the Texas Fire Chiefs annual conference in College Station.

A special fire helmet, adorned with a custom designed “Fire Chief of the Year 2021” logo golden patch on its front, is displayed on a raised wooden platform. Henley is this year’s recipient since the International Fire Chiefs Association began presenting this honor in 1996 to “one volunteer and one career fire chief for their leadership, innovation, professional development, integrity, public service and contributions to the fire service.”

“It’s a multi-layer honor,” Henley said. “People in the community took the time to nominate me for this award. Then to have that go to the organization, the International Fire Chiefs Association, and being voted on by my peers is icing on a beautiful cake already.”

For Chief Henley, the last year was marked by two “once in a generation” events in managing and heading an emergency response for the COVID-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri. While both events provided new and unique challenges, Henley considers them as an expected part of his job.

“I don’t do this job for those things,” Henley said of the award. “I would rather the spotlight be on my people. And I work as hard as I work to give back to the community.”

“That’s a very trite saying, but the reality is, that is my existence as a team leader,” he continued. “And I want to be the best I can be for the community, but I want to give my people the knowledge, skills, tools, and ability to be the best they can be for the community.”

In the last year, Corsicana Fire Rescue has been working with the Corsicana Police Department to coordinate the COVID-19 vaccination HUB at the I.O.O.F. Center. The HUB opened in January, and will be closing its operations in May. Chief Henley took a moment to reflect on the events of the last year.

“My job and focus has changed and morphed into providing my people with the best, so they can deliver the best,” Henley said. “My hope is that these awards somehow shine a light on Corsicana, and on the many individuals and the sacrifices they make every day.”

Henley spoke about new and upcoming changes for the fire department as he walked out to the fire engine bay. The current station, located at the Corsicana Government Center since its opening in 1975 won’t be home for the main station much longer. Construction is set to end on their new fire station, located at 2975 Drane Road, by the end of April.

Once complete, staff will move in to their new expanded and modernized home where the complex will open by mid-May. Henley, known his affable and good-humored nature, doesn’t hide his enthusiasm of conducting operations from the new facility, where he and his staff can provide a new level of service for Corsicana and Navarro County residents.

“I’m honored to be recognized,” Henley said. “But I just kinda want to put my head down and keep doing the good that we’re doing, and have the men and the women that deliver the service every day be the ones that the spotlight is on.”

Fire Chief Paul Henley poses with his “Fire Chief of the Year” award. – Photo by Guy Chapman

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