June 28, 2024

Firefighter Chief Fights for Liberty, Hangs up His Helmet for a Greater Cause

3.8 min read| Published On: June 28th, 2024|

By Cindy Peterson

Firefighter Chief Fights for Liberty, Hangs up His Helmet for a Greater Cause

3.8 min read| Published On: June 28th, 2024|

Stephen Davis is no stranger to controversy. In fact, he welcomes it.

Stephen began his service career as an Army medic before rising through the ranks at Orange County Fire Rescue, where he became battalion chief in only 10 years. That achievement made him one of the youngest, fastest moving people in the department and he was on a fast track for more success . . . until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when vaccine mandates became a contentious issue. 

Orange County, like many organizations, implemented policies requiring employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The policy included firefighters, who were on the front lines of emergency response during the pandemic.

Stephen faced a moral and ethical dilemma when it came to enforcing this mandate among his team, especially concerning individuals who had legitimate medical or religious exemptions. 

“I had some of my firefighters worried they were going to lose their jobs because they were unsure how this vaccine would affect them,” Stephen says. “We didn’t know a lot about the vaccine at the time, so to ask me to write them up for not taking it was absurd. It was all happening so quickly and there were many inconsistencies. How could I tell someone to go against their own conscience?” 

The fallout from his decision was immediate and severe. By choosing to stand by his convictions and protect his team members’ rights to medical and religious exemptions, Stephen positioned himself against the organizational directives aimed at enforcing the vaccine mandate. This stance led to his termination.

“My career ended with a decision I made to not reprimand firefighters for refusing a vaccination,” Stephen says. “It didn’t matter how much work I had put in, how much I had given to my country and community, it was all yanked from me.”

That experience began his journey into advocacy and public speaking, where he would use his experience as a platform to discuss leadership, individual rights and training tomorrow’s leaders.

Stephen joined Lake County Fire Rescue immediately after his termination from Orange County, and his new team welcomed him for his leadership qualities and willingness to stand up to injustices he was facing. He was appointed as the new division chief.

Launching Raising Alphas

Stephen hung up his fire helmet after two years at Lake County Fire Rescue and shifted his focus from traditional firefighting roles to broader issues of leadership, community service and advocacy. He leveraged his experience to inspire and educate others through his new initiative, Raising Alphas Project, which aims to empower leaders by providing tools, resources and knowledge that encourage strong leadership qualities from a young age. 

“We are on this trajectory to go to school, get good grades, go into a college education system and then work for a career of 20 to 30 years, and what are we chasing that entire time?” Stephen says. “We’re chasing a carrot called retirement.”

While those things are not bad, Stephen wants to broaden the horizon for young people by teaching them things like how to start a business, how to budget finances and other life skills that are often overlooked. 

“I also like to highlight the idea of leading,” he says. “With my kids, I want them respectfully to question things that don’t sound right. A lot of the times in school, we’re taught to be still, sit down, shut up, don’t talk, speak only when spoken to. And a lot of the times that doesn’t allow for creative thinking.”

But his leadership lessons aren’t just for his children. Stephen participates in various speaking engagements, workshops, and conferences where he discusses leadership, crisis management and ethical challenges. He also hosts a weekly Raising Alphas Podcast, where he talks parenting and cultural issues. 

This prompted him to write his recently published book, “Alone in the Fire,” detailing his experiences and the lessons learned throughout his career and life. 

Five Rungs of Leadership

In the book, Stephen outlines a progressive approach to effective leadership he calls “Five Rungs of Leadership” with the acronym LADDR: Legitimacy, Alignment, Dedication, Development and Rally.

“Legitimate is when I earn a position, it’s a legitimate rank,” Stephen says. “So people, by just a rank structure, follow that individual because they’ve earned the position. It’s a legitimate position. The problem is, they won’t earn the respect of their crews. They won’t go any further up the ladder.” 

He says that leaders must align with their crew by spending time with them and creating people who want to work with you because of who you are, not what your title is. Then that leader must dedicate himself with pride to their organization.

“The next level of leadership is developing,” he says. “Because I can’t always be the leader, I have to develop the next leader. And I helped you become a leader in our organization.”

Finally, create something people want to rally behind. 

“People need to see someone to rally to,” Stephen says. “That is a position that takes a lifetime. Am I there yet? I don’t think so. I think when people see my podcast, Raising Alphas Project, they see that I’m in the community, I get closer to that fifth rung.” 

Looking forward, Stephen is focused on expanding his message through speaking engagements, his book “Alone in the Fire” and ongoing advocacy work. His efforts are geared toward addressing current leadership gaps and preparing future generations to take on the challenges of tomorrow with integrity and determination.  


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About the Author: Cindy Peterson

Originally from the small town of Berryville, Arkansas, Cindy has become a multimedia specialist in journalism, photography, videography, and video editing. She has a B.S. in Communications from the University of Central Arkansas and produces Style Magazine's Sports Hub Podcast and the Healthy Living Podcast. She also produces for Beacon College’s Telly Award-winning PBS show, “A World of Difference.” When she isn’t working, Cindy loves traveling the National Parks with her husband , Ryan, and son, David, photographing wildlife.

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