As an instructor with the South Carolina Fire Academy, Ken Norton prepares newcomers to the fire service to be probationary firefighters.
That preparation came in handy as Norton, who has 12 years of firefighting experience, joined Midway Fire Rescue in December and is once again a probationary firefighter, or "probie," as firefighters like to say.
Norton, 34, is a Myrtle Beach native and graduate of Myrtle Beach High School. After his aspirations of joining the military didn't work out, he started volunteering with Horry County Fire Rescue.
"Fire service was the next option (and) I kind of fell in love with it," he said.
Norton volunteered for about four years while he got his firefighter training and EMT certification and earned an associate's degree in applied science. He became a paid firefighter in 2008.
"That's where it all began, where I fell in love with it," Norton said. "I couldn’t imagine doing anything else."
Norton was looking for a smaller, more tight-knit department when he made the decision to join Midway last month.
"It's definitely a slower pace, a tighter-knit group (and) there's a little more of an opportunity for other things then there was in Horry County," Norton said.
He plans to continue to teach at the fire academy.
"That's where you meet people who are just coming into it," Norton said. "Just like a fifth-grade English teacher, you will make the difference in that person's life, whether they enjoy what they’re doing for here on out. I wanted to make that impression upon new firefighters, show them what the job is really about."
What’s his best advice to a new firefighter?
"Respect the boss, listen to the senior guy and continue to learn every day," he said.
Norton's professional goals are to get his bachelor’s degree and become a fire chief.
"It might be 15, 20 years from now," Norton said, "but I want to work my way into a leadership role where I can make an overall difference in the organization that I’m (working with) or in the fire service."
He also wants to have a "positive effect" on the fire service, no matter where he serves.
"It doesn't matter where I go," Norton said. "If I’m a part of the fire service, I want to make a positive effect, a positive change."
Norton said his best professional experience was helping a group of men under his command become better firefighters.
"They probably weren't the first ones picked always, but that changed pretty quickly because I was able to get them to open up and find what they were capable of," Norton said. "I knew that they were capable of great things and they showed that, and ended up being some of the best employees and best firemen that had ever been there."
Norton said he didn't do anything out of the ordinary; he just motivated them to find what they already had "buried deep inside."
"That was satisfying to see how successful they became with just having the right leadership," he said.
Norton lives in Conway with his wife, Kristen, and three sons, Jaxson, Parker and Beckham. In his spare time, he likes riding motorcycles, playing guitar, and doing anything outdoors with his boys, especially hunting and fishing.
Norton’s No. 1 personal goal is to be a good "daddy" to his sons, he said, and support for his wife.
"Teach my kids to live in Christ and respect all human life and love everyone (and) don’t have any ill will, especially today," he said. "And be a good husband to my wife. We're a firefighter family. Everything I’ve done, every step of my career, my wife has supported and I wouldn’t be here without her."