Former NAS Patuxent River Fire Chief George Kennett, who retired in 2008, was honored recently during the Navy’s annual Fire & Emergency Services (F&ES) Awards by being inducted into the F&ES Hall of Fame.
Each year, Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) recognizes deserving fire and emergency services responders, inspectors and management staff across 70 installations worldwide through the awards program. Selections for individual categories are based on accomplishments, job performance, technical competence, leadership ability, initiative, resourcefulness, program development, training development, performance as an instructor, trainer or speaker, and professional credentials.
Eighty-three nominations were submitted to compete within the 14 categories for this year’s Navy F&ES Awards. Specifically, the Hall of Fame award was established in 2003 to recognize significant and distinguished contributions to Navy firefighting services.
“I got a call from the current Naval District Washington Fire Chief, Kevin Grinder, who told me a bunch of active and retired fire chiefs in the region got together and my name kept coming up to be inducted into the Hall of Fame; they asked me to send some information so they could put a package together and submit it,” said Kennett, who had hired Grinder 20 years ago as a Pax River firefighter. “I was flattered, considering I’ve been retired for 13 years. I guess I left some sort of legacy behind.”
Kennett says he always knew he’d be in fire service because his dad and brother were volunteer firefighters, his mother was in the ladies auxiliary, and they lived across the street from a volunteer fire department; but it was one night in 1972 that helped clarify his intention.
“I was 15 years old when arsonists set our tobacco barns on fire with my parents’ entire year of tobacco in them; they lost about $250,000 by today’s equivalent,” Kennett said. “I noticed four guys on scene who thought it was funny, and I found that odd. When the fire investigator came out and asked me if I had any thoughts, I told him about those guys and told him who they were. They were eventually arrested and I was the state’s witness placing them at the scene of the crime. The fire that night convinced me I wanted to become a career firefighter and a fire investigator myself, and I actually did do that in my career with the Navy.”
Kennett, who possessed an associate’s degree in Fire Science at the time, was hired at Pax River in 1978 as an entry-level GS4 firefighter. He would eventually go on to earn his master’s degree.
“At the start, I was a firefighter — a 24-hours shift person — for about four years,” he noted. “Then I applied for a job in fire inspection and got that, and that’s when my career really took off. I spent my entire career of nearly 30 years at Pax River and worked my way up to GS13 Fire Chief, a position I held in my last 12 years. After regionalization with Naval District Washington, I also served as the Regional Deputy Fire Chief.”
Per the F&ES awards nominating package, some of Kennett’s career highlights include:
• Led the first naval command in the installation of automated external defibrillators (AED) in buildings, resulting in Pax River receiving recognition as a “Heart Safe Community” for saving several individuals from sudden cardiac arrest.
• Led Pax River’s Fire Department through an intense international accreditation process, only the third Navy fire department to earn the distinction at the time.
• Appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America program in 1984 representing the DoD’s successful fire prevention and public fire education programs, which resulted in low loss of lives on DoD installations around the world.
• Successfully led his department’s efforts to transition the installation’s ambulance service from the then-naval hospital, operated by Navy corpsmen, to Fire & Emergency Services personnel.
• Led his department through post-9/11 events and the resulting fallout, which included increased anthrax and hazardous material responses.
• Served as Past President of the Navy and Marine Corps Fire Protection Association (since abolished); past Chairman of the Federal/Military Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC); and former Navy Fire Service representative to the IAFC.
• Led the installation/fire department through new mutual aid agreements with St. Mary’s and Calvert counties and maintained an excellent working relationship with the mutual aid companies.
• Received numerous awards throughout his career, including a Meritorious Civilian Service Medal, various performance awards, and was inducted into the Southern Maryland Volunteer Firemen’s Association Hall of Fame in 1999.
Even with all his personal achievements, Kennett knows he didn’t do it alone.
“I have always considered the safety and well-being of my coworkers and employees as my top priority,” he added. “Having great employees during my career certainly made me more successful, and the Navy Fire Service is the best.”
Not having slowed down much, Kennett is currently a fulltime faculty member at Chopticon High School working in their Edgenuity Program, a course-recovery program that assists students struggling in courses they need to pass in order to graduate. He is also still active in a volunteer rescue squad and is in his 49th year of volunteer service.
When asked what advice he might give to anyone considering a career in firefighting, he reiterated the importance of higher education.
“Get your college degree; I can’t emphasize that enough,” Kennett said. “Education truly is the key to a successful career. Maintain a good work ethic, clean personal record, and a ‘can-do’ mindset. Sure, there will be challenges and obstacles along the way, but a positive attitude and the ability to meet and overcome those challenges will lead to accomplishments.”