By CHRISTIN COYNE
One Weatherford firefigher’s selflessness and dedication to the job and those around him was recognized earlier this month when Justin Henning was named the 2013 Firefighter of the Year by the Weatherford Fire Department.
“If I could hire a million [of him], I would,” Training Chief Jonathan Peacock said of the 35-year-old firefighter who only recently took on firefighting as a paid occupation.
“I enjoy helping people,” 35-year-old Henning said about why he is a firefighter.
Growing up in Sherman, NY, Henning said he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Tom Sweatman, and other family members and joined the volunteer fire department at the age of 18.
In the small dairy farm community about the size of Brock or Peaster, if you weren’t there for your neighbor, there wasn’t anyone, Henning said.
During the recession that began in 2008, his community was hit particularly hard, according to Henning, who said he and his family moved to Parker County, where he took a job as a heavy equipment operator and later work as a utility work supervisor.
Realizing that he could get paid to do something he enjoyed, Henning started taking fire academy classes at Weatherford College and served as a reserve firefighter with the Weatherford Fire Department for a year. About three years ago, he was hired as a full-time firefighter and has since distinguished himself.
Henning’s supervisor of two years, Battalion Chief Wes McBride, said Henning is very dependable and always willing to help anyone, whether it’s a Weatherford resident or another firefighter.
“He would do anything for anyone,” his grandmother, Janice Sweatman, echoed.
Even when he may not agree with something, Henning always keeps a positive attitude, and is a humble, selfless man, Peacock said.
Peacock said Henning, using skills from his previous occupation, has taken responsibility for helping transform the department’s new training center into a usable facility.
Using heavy equipment, Henning has put in many hours of demolition and preparation of the new facility.
“Whenever he was asked if he could perform work, he would smile and say, ‘Show me what you need done and get out of my way,’” Peacock said.
Henning has saved the city thousands of dollars by offering to do the work, according to Peacock.
“Without his hard work and dedication, the training center would not be in operation, nor would the Weatherford College Fire Academy’s Training Lab be under construction at this time,” Peacock wrote in his nomimation of Henning.
Henning also took the title for Weatherford’s Ultimate Firefighter Challenge in 2012 and 2013.
Last year, the competition, which tests firefighting skills in a mentally and physically-grueling challenge unveiled to firefighters the day of the event, was a 400-foot maze that firefighters had to complete while wearing a blacked-out self-contained breathing apparatus.
Following a hose line and going through a series of obstacles blind, firefighters were timed and graded.
Henning completed the course in 22 minutes and 15 seconds with air to spare, Peacock said. “That’s quite a feat.”
Henning also has another priority in his life – his family, according to those who work with him.
Henning said he met his wife of 15 years in high school and they have been together since throughout the ups and downs.
The couple has a 10-year-old son, who is interested in firefighting, as well, and a 7-year-old daughter, whose basketball team he coaches in Peaster, Henning said.
Though his grandparents still live in New York, Henning has a close relationship with them, as well.
Tom Sweatman, who happened to be in town for a month-long visit in January, said he was proud when he learned on the night of the firefighter’s banquet that his grandson had been recognized as Weatherford’s Firefighter of the Year.