Yadkin County’s longtime fire marshal Eddie Weatherman retired recently and filling his shoes is a Guilford County native who already is making a name for himself. Ricky Leonard joined the county staff as fire marshal in July, after making it through a grueling interview process.
Leonard caught the eye of County Chairman Kevin Austin at a recent event at Deep Creek Baptist Church where he was educating children about the importance of fire safety and demonstrating the gear used by firefighters. Austin recognized Leonard during his comments at a recent commissioners meeting.
“They showed the kids what firemen looked like in turnout gear. Ricky Leonard led this thing and he was great,” Austin said. “He was just great with the kids and the way he was doing his presentation. He had a fireman there who he had dressed from head to toe in turnout gear and he kept asking the kids, is he ready to go into a fire? At the end, he had the kids come up and they were able to touch the fireman in the turnout gear. The message the kids were given from this is, don’t be afraid of firemen. If you have a fire in your house and this thing comes at you, don’t be afraid, he is your friend.”
Austin said Leonard did a great job with his presentation and he was impressed.
“It is just great to have people like that in the county doing this,” Austin added.
Leonard said public education about fire safety was a big part of his previous job as assistant fire marshal in Kernersville.
“I love teaching people, I have fun teaching,” Leonard said.
Leonard began his career in the fire service in 2000 as a volunteer firefighter at his hometown department Pinecroft Sedgefield. His original career goal was to become a civil engineer, but after working as a volunteer firefighter he decided to purse that as his career. After serving as a volunteer for a year, Leonard applied for a full-time position at the Pinecroft Sedgefield Department where he worked until December of 2007 when he joined the staff of the Kernersville Fire Department.
Leonard worked first on a regular fire truck in Kernersville before moving to a ladder truck which he said he loved a lot. Leonard said there was a point where he didn’t think anyone or anything would change his mind about working all the time on a ladder truck with the fire department. When his daughter was born, however, Leonard began to think differently about this career path.
During his time in Kernersville, Leonard said he did begin to gain interest in a different area of the fire service.
“It intrigued me, the investigation stuff, seeing how and where fires started,” Leonard said. He then began taking classes relating to fire investigations and in 2012 he moved to the fire marshal’s office in Kernersville.
“I was the assistant fire marshal for two years and that’s where I got most of my certifications,” Leonard said.
After several people encouraged Leonard to apply for the job as Yadkin County fire marshal, he did. Though he previously said he never wanted to leave a ladder truck, that all changed when his daughter was born and he began to think about other career paths that would allow him more time with his family.
Leonard has a lot on his plate as fire marshal for the entire county, responsible for inspections at all county businesses as well as fire investigations, but he said he is up to the challenge. Leonard also said he loves the community atmosphere in the area.
As fire marshal in a larger city, business owners did not respond kindly when being inspected, but Leonard said here that even when there are violations, business owners are quick to find out how they can correct situations to make sure their business is safe for themselves and their customers. The leadership from other county offices is also something Leonard said is great.
“I like the support I’m getting from [EMS Director] Keith Vestal and the county,” Leonard said. He said also that County Manager Lisa Hughes had been a great support to him in his new role as well as former fire marshal Eddie Weatherman, who trained with him for a month prior to his retirement.
“Working with Eddie for that month helped me a lot,” Leonard said.
Vestal said when Leonard was hired he really “came out shining” from the selection process and he felt he would fit in well and good a really good job as the county’s fire marshal.
Though he never thought he would give up working on a ladder truck, Leonard said he is truly living a dream with his role as fire marshal and though he doesn’t get to be on a fire truck much anymore he does consider himself a firefighter.
“I get to do what little kids dream of, every little kid looks at a fire truck and wants do that. It’s an awesome job, it’s one I feel honored and privileged to get to do,” he said.
Leonard resides in the Fall Creek community with his wife Sheena and 2-year-old daughter Peyton. He and his wife are excited to welcome a new baby this coming February, but not as excited as Peyton. Leonard said she frequently talks about “her new baby” and carries around an ultrasound picture of her new sister or brother.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.