RAF Mildenhall firefighter becomes first British ‘Ronny Jack Coleman Leadership Legacy Award’ recipient

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

 A 100th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department firefighter has started the year off in a blaze of glory, winning not only the 100th Air Refueling Wing’s 2023 Category II Civilian Supervisory award, but also becoming the first British recipient to win the Ronny Jack Coleman Leadership Legacy Award.

The Center for Public Safety Excellence presented the 2024 leadership legacy award to Watch Manager Matt Thorpe at the CPSE conference in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 27, 2024.

The prestigious award has been presented annually since 2010, and until now, all recipients have been fire chiefs, except Thorpe, which highlights the high standard he has reached, surpassed and continues to perform. Nominees must hold a designation through the Commission on Professional Credentialing and have exhibited superior leadership and actions that have elevated the fire and emergency service profession through mentoring, teaching, advocating and sharing outstanding contributions.

Thorpe is the first-ever British CPC-credentialed Fire Officer – a specific designation which signifies an extremely high level of commitment to leadership and operational skills in firefighting and is held only by someone who has achieved the required level of qualification and credentialing. Additionally, he’s currently the only British peer reviewer and British peer assessor.

He was nominated for the award by his supervisor, who said as a conscientious and passionate leader with many years’ experience as a firefighter on U.S. Air Forces in Europe bases and serving within his off-base community, he was the obvious choice.

“As a watch manager, Matt has led his fellow crew members to multiple promotions and awards over the years. He takes the time to advise and teach them to be successful and well-rounded performers,” said Station Manager Martin Lash, 100th CES Fire Department. “He leads by example too, having recently won the wing-level annual Civilian Supervisor award and three years ago, the same award at the Air Force-level. Matt has also mentored two of our civilians to join him – giving us the only three British credentialed fire officers – and I know outside of RAF Mildenhall he has helped many more reach this designation. I was with him recently over at RAF Lakenheath, briefing individuals on the benefits of credentialing and he has discussed with me the idea of reaching out to the other USAFE bases too, to offer assistance.”

Becoming professionally credentialed by the CPSE validates a person’s qualifications, skills and expertise within their specific field, and as a qualified Fire Officer, the watch manager has without a doubt proven his commitment to leadership and operational skills in firefighting – vital requirements when applying to become a designated Fire Officer.

Thorpe regularly assists and mentors military and civilian firefighters, not only at his station at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, but also those from multiple fire departments across the United Kingdom and worldwide.

Becoming credentialed is no easy task. Going through the application process and interview, he said he spent time detailing his experience as a Fire Officer/crew chief on a truck, personally overseeing a crew of firefighters.

“My day-to-day role is as a watch manager for my crew; but I’m not just sat at a desk,” explained Thorpe. “I’m also out responding to calls as well, while in charge of a truck of firefighters. It also it involves all the admin I have to do, such as performance appraisals, annual leave, writing reports, training firefighters – you have to write about all of those things and explain how you’ve done it in the past and how you may be doing it differently done now.”

Additionally, his position involves overseeing the civilian firefighters while working alongside the assistant chief of operations in overseeing the military.

“Part of the application includes looking back over the work you’ve done and detailing your history and experience, so it involves some self-reflecting. You have to include all your certifications, then write development goals for what you’re planning on doing moving forward to make both your fire department and yourself better,” said Thorpe, adding that afterwards comes the interview to validate the information given.”

Thorpe explained that once through the interview stage, the application is reviewed by the CPC, who make the final decision as to whether the applicant’s experiences and dedication make suitable for the title of designated Fire Officer.

Additionally, the thorough credentialing process requires that 13 core competencies must be met, including operational, communications and emergency medical services, all covering every skill set required to become a fire officer.

“After my interview (in 2000), the peer reviewer who assessed me then recommended I also become a peer reviewer, telling me that judging by my strong application, I had a good grasp on everything involved. So immediately after I was officially credentialed, I began the training to become a peer reviewer, and now it’s my job to review applicants – in any country and any branch of military service, in addition to municipal fire departments,” he explained.

The majority of interviews are done via video call and applications are emailed, making the process a little easier and allowing Thorpe to continue spending most of his time in his own station at RAF Mildenhall. In the last three years, the fire officer has dealt with 18 successful applications to become credentialed.

“You’re not just reviewing, but also making sure you help them tie up some loose ends too, such as when you feel an applicant has more experience than they have articulated,” he said. “Sometimes I have to flip over to becoming a mentor, explaining to them that while their package might be good, more can be said about their experiences, encouraging them to dig deeper.”

“The great thing is, if you were applying for a position and the fire chief of that department is credentialed as a Chief Fire Officer, they will be well versed with the process and the standard which must be met to be successful. That application could also act as a resumé because it details you throughout your career as a leader and as a crew manager, and what you’ve gained in terms of experience, qualification, and time in service. Having achieved the designation also says, ‘I stood above the parapet; I was evaluated by an external agency, and they deemed me worthy of this designation’,” he said.

The station manager explained that the CPSE send out a bulletin each year describing the process and the criteria for being recognized for the Ronny Jack Coleman Leadership Legacy Award.

“Matt wants his department to be a success and he wants his firefighters to succeed as individuals also. That’s what being a Fire Officer is all about – it’s about sharing knowledge and succeeding as a team,” remarked Lash.

“It was mentioned to Matt on previous years, but he discounted it, saying that he hadn’t done enough yet. This year, I decided it was time. I knew how passionate he was about credentialing, I saw how he built classes on explaining credentialing to our fire department, I saw others then succeed and heard of the many more that Matt had helped outside of Mildenhall and outside of the country. It hasn’t stopped there – he’s now mentoring others through the process and continues to educate the new firefighters as they arrive at our department,” said Lash.