Community Heroes: An interview with Firefighter Matthew Ryckman
This upcoming week we’re reading The Hero’s Trail: A Guide for a Heroic Life by T.A. Barron. To start off this heroic week, I interviewed Firefighter Matthew Ryckman about: what inspired him to be a firefighter, his favorite book series, what advice he’d give to anyone who would like to be an everyday hero, and more!
Q1 What inspired you to be a firefighter?
Matthew Ryckman: Well I grew up
in the fire service. My dad is a fireman, so it’s kind of all I knew. He’s still actively a firefighter and my brother actually works here in El Centro with me so it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and something I couldn’t live without. I really couldn’t do anything else other than this.
I knew the culture as a kid and you know when you’re a fireman you don’t have birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, you don’t go on holidays or stuff like that.
So having said that, it really did inspire me that it was in the family.
Q2 How long have you been a firefighter?
MR- Technically I’ve been a firefighter for over four years, but I’ve been in the fire service for about eight. I worked as a volunteer in 2010 and then got into the City of San Gabriel fire department in 2012, and then I was hired here.
RCA- I can imagine this takes lot of dedication.
MR- Yes, it’s a lot of schooling. In the college that I went to you had to have, like, an additional thirty semester units and they ranked you by GPA just to get into the academy.
MR- So it was very involved. It wasn’t just ‘I signed up for the academy.’
Q3 What do you like to do recreationally?
MR- I’m a big traveler, and I like travel related stuff. I like to study
languages and stuff like that. I like geography a lot. I could stare at a map for days and just look at stuff. I like spending time, more importantly, with my girlfriend and my family, that’s first and foremost for me.
I also like to collect mugs so I’m not your typical outdoorsman.
RCA-That’s quite an array of things to do.
MR- Yeah, so I’m kind of involved in stuff like that. I like shows about history, travel, culture, languages, food, stuff like that, Andrew Zimmern, Anthony Bourdain...those people are really good examples of what I like.
Q4 What is our favorite book or series?
MR- It would definitely be the Jurassic Park series, the original one by Michael Crichton it’s not a graphic novel, but it just holds your attention and you just don't want to put the book down. I like it just from how he writes, how he describes things aesthetically down to just how it was written and then seeing the movies and seeing the books.
Here’s an example: some of the parts in the movie are not in chronological order to the book so certain aspects of the book don’t line up and that just intrigues me. That would be the only job I would leave for is if I could work at Jurassic Park and became a warden there, like Robert Muldoon or Roland Tembo.
Q5 What do you like the best about reading?
MR- What I like the best about reading is that it broadens my vocabulary and I think it’s like a workout for your brain.
I think it’s good to see if you can, like, retain certain information. Books can be very intricate and you have to pay attention to certain things that might have happened fifty pages ago.
Here's an example. My girlfriend’s cousin is a doctor in Germany. He went to medical school in El Salvador and got a doctor’s job in Germany. He said that the way he researches now is that he just pulls up an app and ‘oh here it is.’ Whereas with reading, you can get a bit more out of it and more knowledge.
RCA- Absolutely. Nowadays, reading has evolved so much with electronic devices, and I think it’s a bit of a problem with youths sometimes and it’s a bit difficult to get the modern generation interested with the reading process.
MR- Like an example of that is: what if you’re curious about what the main language of Cambodian is? It’s Khmer, it’s an aristocratic language kind of like French so they speak differently and they talk differently, and sadly, I looked that up via the internet. I didn't pull up a book to look at that. Or looking at the French language there are different dialects you have Creole, Canadian French, you have African French, and obviously, French Polynesia, and I get all that from the internet, I don’t pull up books.
So, reading is a big deal and it’s a good habit to get into.
Q6 In March, we’re focusing on the theme of heroism from the book The Hero’s Trail by T.A. Barron. Who is a hero to you? Why?
MR- Who is my hero? That is pretty subjective yet objective. I think there are a lot of people that I try to mimic myself off.
I’d definitely say my parents because they have grown up in an environment that was day and night compared to mine. Like, my grandma left my dad at the age of sixteen, he worked full time his entire life and he had a hard time in the fire service.
So I’d have to say my mom and my dad are my heroes because they have stuck together, they’ve never gotten a divorce or anything like that, and, through thick and thin, they’ve made it happen and they were on the same page.
Also, I like certain actors. Older actors I think do good homages of other people. I think certain actors are good heroes and I don’t mean that in that they’re a flashy actor, but I mean in how they portray people.
RCA- Like among the lines of Robert Redford or…?
MR- Yes! Exactly. Gene Wilder... I think he’s a really good actor, and Michael Cain... there’s a lot of British actors that portray Americans the best. Christian Bale, Tom Hardy... I could go on and on. Robert Redford is a good example and Al Pacino in The Godfather. There’s an old movie called The Sunset Boulevard which is good because, in a way, that’s kind of how we look at history.
Q7 A hero can come in many shapes and forms. Is there some advice you’d like to give to someone who wants to be an everyday hero in their own community but might not be sure on how to go about it?
MR- That is an excellent question and that’s a very unique and hard question. My advice would be to treat everybody with respect and that
translates to following the law, that translates to being a good citizen… it’s a domino effect.
Like, let’s say I work at In-N-Out. That everyday person he does not run into a burning building, he doesn’t go on shootings and stabbings, he doesn’t go on vehicle accidents and stuff but that doesn’t mean that he’s not a hero.
I guess what I’m saying is if you try to be a good person and treat others how you’d like to be treated, and that’s not being philosophical, it’s just being open ended. If you’re good to somebody, it’s going to come right back at you. Go out of your way to help people who can’t help themselves, and go out of your way to stand up for people.
I think that would be good advice to be a hero, if you will, because my hero and your hero are two different people.
To me a hero is someone who goes to work every day, gets paid pennies and doesn’t complain about it, and puts food on the table and is there for their family and their kids. Just because you’re not wearing this uniform, it doesn’t mean that you’re not a hero.
Like, I don't consider myself a hero. I wouldn’t say I’m a hero. I’ve been through training, an academy and I’ve been through stuff that takes a group effort, so to say that we’re heroes? We’ve been doing what people have done for years, since the beginning of time, down to the Roman days where they’re traced the earliest firefighters.
RCA- Wow. Well that’s an incredibly humble thing to say. Of course you might not see it, but what you guys do, by putting yourself out there and being continually involved with the community, is still very inspirational.
On that note, is there anything else you’d like to add?
MR- This is actually really cool, I’ve never been a part of something like this so this was great to be a part of.
RCA- Thank you so much for being a part of this!
A great thank you to Fireman Matthew Ryckman for his time and for sharing his experiences and advice.
This is a transcription from a fifteen minute interview.