HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --
On April 15, 2022, Chief Master Sgt. Shane Rutledge, 419th Civil Engineer Squadron fire chief was honored in a graduation ceremony for his completion of the Executive Fire Officer program. To date, less than 10 military fire chiefs have ever completed the program.
Growing up in Texas, life wasn’t easy for Rutledge. His family struggled financially, and by the age of 16, he had to drop out of high school to start a construction business, using borrowed tools, to support himself.
“That was tough. It was very, very, very tough,” said Rutledge. “It made me grow up very fast.”
Rutledge grew his business for several years, but by 18 years old, he realized that there weren’t many long-term benefits in his field such as retirement.
Eventually, Rutledge decided to complete the GED test and become a firefighter. Once he made the decision, he studied for, tested, and earned his GED diploma in 30 days.
“I applied for the local fire department down in Texas, and outscored everyone except military members when I tested,” he said. “They were getting additional points for fire civil service and were getting hired before me.”
After witnessing how military service benefited others, Rutledge joined the Air Force Reserve at 24 where he received all the necessary training and certifications to become a firefighter in both the military and private sector.
“It didn’t take me but a few years to realize that I loved wearing this uniform,” said Rutledge. “I still love it.”
Rutledge went on to take advantage of many other opportunities through the Air Force as well. He used Air Force education programs to get his associate degree and then used his GI Bill benefit to earn his bachelor’s degree.
After spending about 12 years building up his career and education, Rutledge set his sights on the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program.
The NFA’s EFO program is an extensive course that gives fire and emergency executive officers the knowledge and leadership skills necessary to successfully lead teams of emergency responders.
“You're solving problems to be firefighters. How can we protect our citizens and how can we protect those who serve?” said Rutledge.
The application process is competitive. If selected, attendees are required to complete four two-week courses which include in-depth research projects that typically range between 60 and 80 pages each in order to graduate.
Rutledge faced some unique challenges in his attempt to complete the course.
“You're only allowed to go once per year which, with four classes, makes it four years,” said Rutledge. "Being in the military, married, raising two kids, building a new home, deploying, all these things take time and energy. Thus, it took me eight years to complete the program."
Rutledge credits his peers with giving him the motivation and encouragement he needed to persevere through the demanding course, even when he felt like giving up.
Through his hard work and dedication to self-improvement, Rutledge not only completed the program, but he also performed well enough to have each of his applied research projects published in the National Emergency Training Center Library, a primary resource of information for fire professionals.
“The leadership skills you get from being there with other fire chiefs who are going through similar issues radiates to me as I lead my team,” said Rutledge. “It's made me a stronger leader. Without a doubt, I know that this program will continue to benefit me for years to come.”