Two things drive Drew Rogers to serve others. First, being a good role model for his six-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. “For them to see that Daddy’s willing to put in the hard work, I think that will mold them for the future,” he says.
Second, mentoring others to follow their passion. “Whether it’s going and speaking to high school groups, graduating groups, or at award ceremonies, I love to give back and tell my story and hopefully motivate someone to go achieve their goals,” he says.
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And well, there may be a third thing that motivates him as well. “I joined the fire service from a little bit of shaky background. I wasn’t sure where I was going in life and at times like many kids, I made some bad choices, but it was time to grow up. I talked to my uncle’s best friend who was the Assistant Fire Chief for Broward County and told him that I wanted to be a firefighter. He said, ‘Don’t embarrass me.’ So that motivates me too,” he says with a chuckle.
Drew is the Operations Chief for Marion County Fire Rescue (MCFR) in Ocala. Originally from Ft. Lauderdale, he’s been at MCFR for 20 years. And it’s there, that he says he truly found his niche in creating a culture of wellness, mental toughness, and mentorship.
“They’ve given me the opportunity to grow and build my own way for this department with education and training and to give back to the community in ways I would have never thought possible as a younger person. The more educated I got in this field and the more opportunities that Marion County gave me, the more I am able to help mold our future firefighters.”
His dedication to mentorship and creating a culture of excellence at his department has earned Drew recognition of being named a CGI Celebrating Strength Hero. He is one of four people chosen statewide who have won a $1,000 prize from the window and door manufacturer in its contest to recognize everyday heroes going above and beyond to help others. If chosen as the overall winner after a public voting campaign, he could win an additional $5,000.
“Drew gives back and serves others with education and kindness and has created a culture of caring at the Marion County Fire Rescue,” said Bob Keller, President of the Southeast Business Unit for PGT Innovations (PGTI), CGI’s parent company. “His values are closely aligned with ours at PGTI and we applaud him for all he’s doing.”
Drew’s cousin, a fellow first responder and former police officer in California, nominated him for the CGI Celebrating Strength award. Here is some of what she said about him:
“Many of the young men and women in his firefighter mentorship program come from broken homes, bad childhoods, or may have strayed the wrong way in life. He gives them a purpose; doesn’t allow them to make excuses to behave below their talent and takes them places they wouldn’t have dreamed. Many of the mentorship members are first-generation college students or the first to have a very secure job future. So many kids’ lives have been turned in the right direction directly due to Drew’s efforts and tenacity to make his community better.”
Through the department’s mentorship program, a joint effort between the Ocala fire department and MCFR, Drew is able to help others who are just starting out in the field he loves.
He also helped restart the career academy program at the agency which encompasses engineering, law enforcement, the fire academy, and other fields.
The program is geared toward high school students in their senior year and allows them to get certified as an EMT and complete the Fire 1 course. “We then hire them on and send them to Fire 2,” Drew says. “They become fully firefighter and EMT certified at the age of 18 which is amazing. They get into the Florida state retirement system and we’ve now molded it into our mentorship program.”
Working with high school seniors allows Drew to fulfill his dream of helping others that are like he was at that age. “I was having a hard time in school at that age,” he says. “I was very smart but like many kids, I didn’t really enjoy learning about the subject matter but I was very physical. I played sports in high school and I was a hard worker. My guidance counselor saw something in me and encouraged me to be a firefighter and I want to do that for others. I love to help every cadet that we have and the ones who really need that extra push.”
Besides all he does to coach cadets, Drew also recently saw a dream come to life when he secured funding and support to build a 7,000 square-foot gym to help trainees stay fit, to help them pass their physical ability tests, and to stay mentally and physically sound. It’s called EGH Fitness or Everybody Goes Home.
“It’s free for firefighters and their immediate family members (kids over 14), and we set up mock tests for the physical ability exam, one of the pre-qualifiers for fire school, a very hard, challenging test.
Firefighters have to pass that test every year. The year before the gym was built, 57 people were unsuccessful in passing, but the first year after EGH Fitness was operating in 2020, the department had a 100% pass rate.
The gym also has everything from HIIT exercises to weight training to cardio. “It’s so these guys and girls have what they need to motivate themselves and get in shape, but also for our current employees to be healthier. We staff it with a peer fitness trainer and it’s open 365 days a year.”
Drew also takes part in an annual fundraiser for the Emilio Rivera foundation, which was started by one of their firefighters. Every year they hold a competition called Bear the Burden. “We have prizes for winners of different categories and that money goes to the foundation. This year they were able to use funds to sponsor a cadet. It was really great to raise funds that went directly toward making someone a firefighter for MCFR.”
To find out more about all of the winners and to cast your vote, click here.