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PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, California -- From lifeguard to car stereo manager to Presidio of Monterey Employee of the Month …. it's been a journey for Brad Hess.

The PoM firefighter is the initial award winner for January, a recognition program started by Col. Lawrence Brown, commander of the Presidio.

"His initiative and work ethic have made the fire department a safer place to work," said Tom Joyce, PoM fire chief. "His efforts have improved safety for firefighters and reduced response time for us to arrive at the scene of emergencies."

A firefighter since September 2014, Hess was nominated for the honor for his efforts to update technology on the fire engines. Solar panels now keep the batteries charged full time, LED highlights provide improved visibility, and window tinting cuts glare.

"Because I am a car guy I know about new technologies and bring that knowledge here," Hess said. "I love that this department lets you do that. There's a lot of departments in cities where you can't. We're really lucky here."

The car guy was manager of car stereo installation at the Best Buy in Marina when the PoM fire truck was brought in to install satellite radio in 2008. After the job, Hess was invited to tour the fire station.

"I did that and I was hooked. They get to drive cool vehicles, they get to fight fires, everybody admires them," he said. "I loved doing car audio but it wasn't a career, it's a job. I was looking to make a career change."

In May 2009 Hess completed an Emergency Medical Technician course and graduated from Monterey Peninsula College's Firefighter Academy in 2010.

He ran into a hiring wall for PoM Fire. Applying as a U.S. citizen without any hiring preferences, openings would be filled by current Department of Defense firefighters or new hires would have a military experience.

"In 2012 the guys here said, 'Why don't you join the Reserves? You'll get to go to the DoD Fire Academy,'" So I joined the Air Force Reserve and was honor graduate at the academy."

After another failed application based on a false interpretation of his military service, Hess was hired at the Presidio department more than three years ago.

"He routinely provides outstanding emergency care while treating patients with compassion and kindness," Joyce said. "He's been observed holding the hand of a patient, showing compassion while consoling their family members. He is a true leader, mentor and coach for his fellow firefighters on every emergency."