When Christopher Connelly was growing up in Los Angeles with a single mother and two siblings, there was “little light at the end of the tunnel” due to financial limitations and a lack of opportunities. He was always intrigued by the fire industry and pursued a career in the military in search of the opportunities he couldn’t find as a child.
“Although I was challenged as a young person, what I was very fortunate to do when I got into the military was to see that opportunity was spread out a little more,” he said.
Connelly served active duty in the U.S. Navy for six years and then pursued his career in the fire service. Today, he is the regional fire chief for the U.S. Navy Southwest Fire and Emergency Services program, the highest-ranking civilian firefighter on the West Coast.
During his career, he has been awarded the 2014 Navy Fire Chief of the Year award, two fire service medals of honor and the Center for Public Safety Excellence chief fire officer designation.
“With a lot of heart and personal ambition, I was able to rise to the occasion and exceed all my expectations. I never would have thought this was going to be me. Hard work and dedication pays off. The sky is truly limitless; you just have to have the courage to reach for it,” he said.
Connelly knew early on in his career that in order to compete for the promotions he desired, he needed to earn his bachelor’s degree.
“The fire service, although steadfast in tradition, is always and concurrently trending in unpaved territory. Employers are looking for more well-rounded candidates at all levels,” he said. “It’s been a real pleasure knowing that every resume or job application I have put out there has that stamp of the bachelor’s degree accredited through CSU. It’s something I now champion for others.”
When Connelly pursued his bachelor’s degree, he was working at the junior level and raising a family. He knew he had a lot on his plate but did not want to sacrifice his goals.
“The military is what opened my eyes to say, ‘you are the champion of your career and your future.’ That is what made me realize I can do more things at one time. I can juggle the military and working for the fire department and go to college. It is all in where you want to project your future. I took full advantage of the challenges and the roadblocks to get to where I am today.”
He says that his achievements and success have been worthwhile, but not what he is most proud of in his career.
“What I am most proud of is that I have taken the bull by the horns with recruitment,” he said. “Years ago, people said ‘I want to be a firefighter’ or ‘I want to be a police officer’ but those jobs aren’t so glamorous anymore; there no longer is a pull to these careers. To be able to support someone with the facts and data on why this career is so rewarding, that is the biggest reward in this career.”
Connelly earned his bachelor’s in fire science in 2011.