Personality: Courtland Lambert Jr.

Spotlight on Richmond's Firefighter of the Year

11/21/2014, 6 a.m.
Courtland A. Lambert Jr. faces danger each time he suits up in firefighter gear, climbs aboard a truck at Richmond ...
Courtland Lambert Photo by Sandra Sellars

Courtland A. Lambert Jr. faces danger each time he suits up in firefighter gear, climbs aboard a truck at Richmond Fire Station No. 1 in Church Hill and responds to a call.

Among the life-threatening hazards he faces:

• Fires blazing at temperatures up to 1,400 degrees.

• Billowing smoke, causing near zero visibility.

• Dangerous gases, such as carbon monoxide, filling the air.

• Blazing walls, roofs and other structures crashing down.

• And the floor giving out, crashing him into an inferno.

“You’re nervous, but you’re relying on all the training you’ve gone through and a respect for what you’re going through,” Mr. Lambert says.

Mr. Lambert is one of 338 firefighters protecting the city of Richmond. But he is a standout. He is the 2014 Richmond Department of Fire and Emergency Services “Firefighter of the Year.”

He received the honor Oct. 23 in an awards ceremony at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in the East End.

“My reaction was disbelief,” Mr. Lambert, a 37-year-old Mechanicsville resident, recalls. “There are a lot of firefighters who work very hard every day with me and are very deserving of this award. To see my daily efforts in the department being appreciated to this level is very humbling. It wasn’t until I got there that I realized what award I was getting.

“It is really an honor,” he says. “It always feels good to be appreciated for the work that you do. I try to do the right thing with everything I do. It’s nice to know that someone believes I do a good job.”

The honor was bestowed upon Mr. Lambert based on a recommendation from Douglas Clevert, his former lieutenant.

Mr. Lambert has been a Richmond firefighter for the past 13 years. He has attained the rank of Master Firefighter.

Why did he decide to become a firefighter?

“I have two uncles who are firefighters,” he says. “One is a volunteer firefighter and one is with Henrico County.

“And I always wanted to do something in public service — just to help people.”

He recalls the biggest fire he has helped fight.

“It was in some apartments still under construction at 933 W. Broad St. in 2004,” Mr. Lambert says. “As we started getting the fire under control there, foam insulation from the site started getting blown by the wind to nearby houses and they caught on fire. We had to react quickly to put out those fires as well.”

Although firefighters are well protected wearing fire-retardant gear, a mask, helmet and a self-contained breathing apparatus, they still feel the searing heat of the flames they battle.

“You feel that heat on the back of your neck and the tops of your ears,” Mr. Lambert says. “And you get blister marks on the top of your head.

“And nine times out of 10, you’re not going to be able to see anything in front of you.”

Meet this week’s Personality, Courtland Lambert:

Date and place of birth:  Oct. 21 in Richmond.

Current home: Mechanicsville.

Education: Lee-Davis High School.

Family: My wife, Kimberly, two daughters, Sarah and Rachel, and one son, Caleb.

How I received the news that I was “Firefighter of the Year”: I was told that I was receiving an award and needed to be present at the ceremony. It wasn’t until I got there that I realized what award it was that I was getting.

Number of competitors for “Firefighter of the Year”: I am not sure actually, but I was told it wasn’t just me.

What makes me good at firefighting:  We train daily on how to perform our jobs better, and to learn new ways of doing things. This helps keep our skills sharp and ready for when we need to respond to calls. It’s kind of the old “practice makes perfect” concept.

Foremost reward of firefighting: Being able to help the community we serve in their time of need.

Requirements to become a good firefighter: It takes discipline, education and training, training and training. You must have a willingness to continue to learn and have a love for the job.

Biggest change I’ve seen in fire and emergency services: The number of women who have joined the department. When I was hired, there were fewer than today.

How public sees firefighters: I think they see us as positive.

How I would like the public to see us: I want them to know we are here to help them when things are not going well.  I want them to know they can call us and we will be there.

Most unforgettable experience as a firefighter: The fire at apartments under construction at 933 W. Broad St. It really challenged us as a department. We had to use all of our resources and then some. It was truly a fire I won’t forget.

Advice to young people interested in a firefighter career:  Do it. It’s truly a fulfilling and rewarding career.

Opportunities for women: I would encourage women to apply. It’s not like in the past when it was male dominant. There are actually quite a large number of women in our department, and it’s a good thing. It is refreshing to work with such a diverse workforce.

How I start my day: A hot shower and a good cup of coffee.

Best late-night snack: Popcorn.

When I look in the mirror I see: A work in progress.

Biggest chance I ever took: Every time I use a public restroom.

The person who influenced me the most: Probably my maternal grandfather, Sidney C. Lockett Jr. He passed away when I was only 10, but his desire to help people and strong work ethic stick with me to this day.

The best thing my parents ever taught me was: Respect and a strong work ethic. My father worked for DuPont for 42 years and I never heard him once complain about going to work.

If I had more time I would: Spend more time with my family.

My next goal: To continue to have a rewarding, safe career. In this day and age, there are many in the fire service who don’t see retirement age.