A firefighter whose first anniversary with the Searcy Fire Department will be Feb. 1 has made a quick impression, being named the department’s 2021 Firefighter of the Year.

Zac Christian, 23, was honored in an award ceremony Monday at the Central Fire Station. Searcy Fire Chief Brian Dunavan told the personnel present that “this is voted on by you.”

Battalion Chief Carl Raia said Christian, whom he has nicknamed “Leo” because “I can’t remember their names right off the bat,” “has been on my shift [the A shift] since he started with the department. He was a little timid to start with until he got in the groove, but he is an excellent firefighter and stays busy all the time. He is always looking for something to do and he is very conscientious about doing his job correctly, always training to be better and growing as a firefighter.”

Christian said he doesn’t consider being a firefighter to be work. “I say this to everybody: I haven’t worked a day here yet because I love what I’m doing. Some people say, ‘I have to go to work and it’s awful.’ I get excited the night before I come into work.”

Christian, who is from Waco, Texas, said he came to Searcy originally to be an elementary education major at Harding University and then met his wife, Erin, who teaches fourth grade at Liberty Christian. “She started teaching while I was in school.” (The couple married a year and a half ago and are expecting a baby girl in May.)

However, firefighting has always been a part of his life. His father, Jonathan, who attended the ceremony along with Christian’s wife, is an assistant fire chief in Temple, Texas.

Asked what he wanted to be when he was a kid, the answer came easy for Christian: “a fireman, all the way!” When Christian was younger in Texas, he said he would go to the fire station and see his dad all the time. “Once I got old enough, I would ride out with him at times and kind of see the station life and stuff.”

“I always wanted to [be a firefighter] and it kind of has turned in the fire service where you need a degree, so he [his dad] has really pushed me to get a degree, so that is why I came up here,” he said. “I just applied here and they accepted me. ...

“I was super excited on my first day. I was pretty quiet and kind of shy at first but, like he [Raia] said, I found my groove. I didn’t think I was qualified [to get the Firefighter of the Year award] because as a firefighter, I’m still a rookie. I try to learn every little bit that I can and I learn from everybody and whatever they do, I tried to do a little bit more just to make it easier for the captain, like get his gear set up on the truck.”

Jonathan Christian, who has been in fire service for almost 24 years, said Christian “pretty much was always wanting to be a firefighter and with him growing up, I always said, ‘He would make a great fireman wherever he goes.’”

“I am super proud,” he said. “I was hoping to keep him in Texas. We will loan him to Arkansas. I don’t know if I will ever get him back, but I know he loves it up here and I’m just super proud of him. Both from an old fireman’s side to see him doing really good as a fireman but from the dad’s side, too, to see the man that he has become is really nice.”

Christian’s immediate supervisor, Capt. Jo-Pat Black, said it was great that Christian received the honor.

“He’s definitely deserving of it. He has been top-notch ever since he got here,” Black said. “He comes from a firefighting family, so it’s in his blood. It’s always good when you get the generationals in here, but just from day one, he’s impressed me. I have been able to count on him since day one. I have never seen him come in in anything but a great mood and that’s really rare. If he’s had a bad day, I haven’t seen one yet and he’s always smiling and looking for projects to do.

“He goes above and beyond no matter what it is. Having that drive to come to work every day and when you’re here, being here, be in the moment, we are here for 24 hours, it’s hard when you’ve got family. He is a great example of that, when you’re here, being here, and he is just a great example of doing that. No matter if it’s seven in the morning or three in the morning, he’s been that guy that ... is so eager to learn everything. He will be one to move up.”

Concerning the possibility of moving up in the department, Christian said, “I don’t know if I ever want to be in the management part because I love the job, I love riding out and doing that part.” He said he also enjoys “the brotherhood” in the fire system.

He said he “has not been involved in a structure fire on shift yet, but has been out on a lot of medical calls and a few accidents. ‘We’ve had little dumpster fires, grass fires and stuff like that.”

Christian said he also likes the community involvement aspect of his job.

“We did the stair climb [for the anniversary of 9/11] and there was Beats and Eats, fire prevention at the schools,” he said. “I was an elementary major, that’s what I was going for, so I get along real well.”

Christian and others from the department have gone to schools like Harding Academy and shared their fire training skills with the students outside on campus. He said the firefighters are here for them and “this is their station, too; they can come up and look and everything.”

His shift begins “about 6 or 6 05 in the morning, I get the captain’s gear set up and ready to go, get ice in the freezers and the battalion, check the rig and make sure everything is good, air in the air bottles, hoses are laid correctly. I have my own stuff that I check in the morning. I start at 6 but officially at 7.”

Dunavan said Christian “is just a good, strong firefighter. He is looking to improve. He shows up to work early and just does anything we ask him to do.” Dunavan said he thinks maybe 10 percent of Searcy’s firefighters come from a fire department family, having a relative who has served.

In addition to carrying on the family tradition, Christian also is carrying a firefighter tradition by having a handlebar mustache.

“I know a little history about the fire service and it [mustaches] started back way before they had the air apparatus,” Christian said. “They’d grow it really long and they would stick it in their mouth and it would filter out some of the smoke when they went into the fire. So it’s been kind of a tradition most firemen have mustaches.

He said he’s had his mustache “a little over a year. I was starting to grow it and I saw Capt. Black’s and I said, ‘That is what I want to do.’ I started it a couple of months before I got on.”

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