Have you ever uttered the words, “There are just not enough hours in the day” when looking at your calendar? Each hour possesses a different task or obligation, and if you are lucky, a few hours are devoted to sleep. It would be easy to assume that as a husband, father, firefighter, paramedic and student, Grady Harrison is familiar with this type of schedule, yet, somehow he makes it work.
Learning from a young age how work can provide a sense of freedom and independence, Harrison worked two jobs while attending Estero High School. While working at an auto body shop, he learned of a co-worker who also served as a firefighter. Inspired by his co-worker’s commitment to serving others, Harrison decided to attend Florida State Fire College in Ocala in 2004 to become a certified firefighter. For three months, he lived in a military style facility, attending class five days a week.
“They would come to our dorms and wake us up in the middle of the night to put out fires. It gave us real experience,” he said.
Graduating with his state certification in 2004, he immediately enrolled at Edison State College (now Florida SouthWestern State College) to pursue his certification as an emergency medical technician (EMT), which he earned in 2005.
Applying for various positions in Southwest Florida, he accepted a position with Collier County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in 2006. Serving as a firefighter and EMT, Harrison discovered his niche for the medical side of emergency services and enrolled at Edison State College to become a paramedic.
While the process to become a certified paramedic takes one year to complete, Harrison opted to pursue his associate degree in emergency medical services technology, which was a two-year program. Graduating in 2011, he continued to work for Collier County EMS within their special operations response team.
“We would respond to chemical spills, and as a part of the medical aspect of it, we had a kit of medications for different exposures to nerve agents and those sort of things. We were also trained with protective equipment and learned how to decontaminate people and prevent exposures,” he said.
In 2015, life brought about a change for Harrison when he made the decision to leave Collier County EMS and join Marco Island Fire Rescue. However, this wasn’t the only transition he made during this time. Marrying his wife Allie one year earlier, the two welcomed their daughter Harper in November 2015.
Becoming acquainted with his new co-workers, Harrison began contemplating the idea of returning to school. Learning about Hodges from the station’s Deputy Fire Chief, Dave Batiato, Harrison said, “His mom is Dr. [Dolores] Batiato and Dave suggested the management program because of the need for leaders in the department.”
Enrolling in the Bachelor of Science in management program at Hodges in summer 2016, Harrison opted to pursue his degree online through the program’s wheel format. Admitting his nervousness for reentering the educational setting, his field of work requires him to stay abreast of new information and techniques, which means participating in various educational trainings.
“I find the online program to be a bit more time consuming than being in a traditional classroom. However, it is more convenient with my schedule, and I can do my homework when it works best for me. Plus, the online discussions make it really interactive,” he explained.
Taking classes with Batiato, Harrison found himself positioned in a unique situation, saying, “I was a little bit nervous about it at first because I thought, ‘oh man, if I flunk this, I’m going to be in trouble at school and at work.’”
Considering Batiato to be one of his favorite professors, he appreciates her real-world experience and extensive professional background to be respectable. “She is always so understanding and responsive. When I have trouble with homework, she is always willing to help,” he said.
It is this type of responsiveness that helps Harrison finish his assignments in a timely manner all while balancing family and work. While his daughter would be napping, Harrison used the time to finish homework and study. At one point, he recalls finishing a final exam with his daughter asleep in the baby carrier next to him.
“It doesn’t have to happen right away, but I know I want to be able to lead and inspire people. The skills I have received from Hodges will enable me to do just that.” – Grady Harrison
In addition to the numerous roles he plays each day, Harrison also serves a member of the Collier County Marine Emergency Response Team, Dive Team and coordinator of a fall prevention program with Marco Island Fire and Rescue. The program aims to prevent injuries in seniors and provides a referral program for seniors who are at high-risk for falling.
“I am able to follow up with these individuals and put them in contact with resources such as in-home care, as well as help them with getting their medications. I also go in the home and make sure it is fall proof,” he explained. By installing grab bars and removing rugs, Harrison is able to help prevent common falls among Marco Island’s senior population.
“The team at Marco is very supportive. I am able to teach CPR at the station, fall prevention classes in the community, and I am able to network with other individuals who work with seniors such as the Leadership Coalition on Aging,” he said.
As a result of his work, both personally and professionally, he was awarded the 2016 Firefighter of the Year award by Marco Island Fire and Rescue, as well as the 2016 Student of the Year award for the undergraduate management program in Hodges’ Johnson School of Business.
With an expected graduation date of summer 2017, Harrison hopes to one day work within an emergency management department or as part of a city’s fire commission. In addition, he hopes to teach aspiring firefighters and paramedics at the college level.
“It doesn’t have to happen right away, but I know I want to be able to lead and inspire people. The skills I have received from Hodges will enable me to do just that.”