The Firewise family lost one of its own last week with the untimely death of Matt Simpson, former Arkansas Firewise liaison and Chief of the Lake Hamilton Fire Department.
As the Firewise liaison for the state Forestry Commission, Matt carried on the energetic legacy of David Samuel, who retired in 2008. Arkansas is notable for its tremendous activity in engaging residents and volunteer fire departments in the Firewise Communities/USA program. Matt's leadership continued the state's #1 ranking for Firewise communities. His own service in his volunteer fire departments provided a strong connection that people could relate to and a clear example for them to follow.
Matt gave of his time - above and beyond the call of duty. When Firewise staff (including me) visited in 2009, he spent most of a week taking us to locations all around the state and introducing us to Firewise advocates and champions. I learned on that visit that Matt had been a member of NFPA for a long time in his role as a Master Plumber. Matt later served as part of NFPA's Public Educators' Network for the state of Arkansas.
As a dedicated fire chief, Matt returned to a full-time position with Lake Hamilton last year, leaving the Arkansas Forestry Commission. Most recently, he assisted NFPA's wildland fire operations staff with the production of a new DVD, Before the Smoke: Protecting Your Community from Wildfire. The DVD focused on ways that small rural and volunteer fire departments - like his own -- could use their limited resources and leverage tools such as Firewise and concepts such as Fire Adapted Communities to prepare for nature's fire before smoke is in the air.
As you'll no doubt read in the beautiful memorials left by his friends, family and colleagues, Matt was a kind and happy person in addition to being incredibly hard-working. He had a gentle approach and was always looking for the win-win solution to any challenge. His quiet "behind-the-scenes" way of working belied the tremendous influence he had on everyone around him. I hope that if you, like me, are shocked and saddened by his much-too-early passing, you'll take comfort in the knowledge that Matt lived his life doing what he loved to do best, a life in service to others.
Photos: Top - Matt Simpson looks on as Bill Barnes receives the 10-Year Firewise Award for Joplin, Arkansas, from Firewise Advisor Patrick Mahoney, July 2012; Above - Matt is flanked by Michele Steinberg and Cheryl Blake of the NFPA Firewise staff and members of the Holiday Island, Arkansas, Firewise Committee, October 2009.