On a blazing July day, Brennen Henry (BA ’13) surveyed a property littered with tanks of flammable liquids that could explode under the unforgiving sun. Henry—a fire prevention officer for the Fresno Fire Department—moved in for a closer look not knowing how unstable the pressurized tanks might be in the 100-degree heat.
His immediate focus: identify all fire hazards now endangering the property owner and his neighbors, and that could prove deadly to firefighters should a blaze erupt. Henry is always mindful of firefighters. “I’m very concerned that they get home safely to their families,” he says. It’s his responsibility, and it’s also personal.
Henry had planned to become a pastor when he started at FPU. How he ended up inspecting the dangerous tanks is a combination of deep family ties to the fire service and the FPU principle of serving others—no matter your major or career. “I can lay my head down at night and fall asleep knowing what I’m doing is something that makes my community a better place. And that is something that was definitely rooted in me at Fresno Pacific.”
Public service legacy
“We have a lot of fire in our family,” Henry says. His grandfather was a volunteer firefighter, and his father is a fire chief in rural Fresno County. Two cousins are Fresno firefighters. As a boy, Henry would visit the fire stations where his dad worked. He got the feel of a fire hose dousing a small blaze, and he experienced the thrill of riding in a fire engine. But with age came worry. “Once I was old enough to realize how dangerous my dad’s job is, there was a definite anxiety that went along with everything. I would think: ‘I could be at school and something could happen to my dad, and I wouldn’t know until it was all said
After high school, Henry majored in biblical studies and English at FPU. Faculty gave him space to consider his future with faith in God’s leading. Henry remembers a seminal moment in a course taught by Greg Camp, Ph.D., now associate dean of the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences. Camp was discussing how the words “faith, belief and trust” have different meanings in English but are the same word in Greek. “I realized when we talk about faith and belief in the Bible, we’re really talking about trust and that requires something from us,” Henry says. “Greg was willing to stop his lecture and help me come to terms with that.”
Soon Henry would face a major decision he had not anticipated—a decision that required trust and action. He let go of the dream of becoming a pastor. “By the time I graduated, I had done some work in ministry, and I realized—with some mentoring and coaching—that my skill set is actually in teaching, not in preaching or pastoring.”
In so doing, Henry grasped a truth central to FPU’s faith-based education: no matter their career, students serve God by serving their communities.
After graduation, Henry interned at the Fresno Fire Department as he sorted out his future. “I was trying to gain some skills and also figure out where I could find a job so I could get out of my parents’ house,” he says with a laugh. During the internship, Henry attended some classes in Sacramento required of all fire prevention inspectors. He accompanied his father, then a deputy fire chief and in charge of inspectors. “I realized prevention is really interesting and so important,” Henry says.
The inspectors’ fire code is a detailed set of standards and regulations, which Henry navigates using critical thinking skills honed at FPU. For example, Brian Schultz, Ph.D., professor of biblical and theological studies, would occasionally start class with a thinking exercise, sometimes connected to some current event or other area of life. “Brian identified it as a skill set needed by people going into the world to be active in their communities. He went out of his way to make sure that all students in his classes had training in critical thinking.”
His ability to pivot from what he studied at FPU to a career in a different field speaks to another principle Henry learned at the university. He says W. Marshall Johnston, Ph.D., professor and program director of history, summarized it by quoting a president of Bryn Mawr College, where Johnston studied: “The point of a liberal arts education is to make your head an interesting place to live for the rest of your life.” Johnston says Henry was a positive presence: “His humor and his spirit were always a unifying force for us, as was his wide range of interests.”
For the last eight years, Henry has drawn on his FPU education as he’s advanced to code compliance officer in the Fresno Fire Department. In addition to handling cases, he trains new inspectors, exercising his gift for teaching. “I found this great opportunity to develop as a person and a professional, and I found people at Fresno Fire who were willing to invest in me.”
‘Terrifying and exciting’
On that hot summer day when Henry found the tanks of flammable liquid, he discovered other fire hazards at the site. Some posed an imminent threat and needed immediate fixing; others could be addressed later. The property owner was willing to work with Henry, which made his job easier.
“I’m the kind of inspector who wants to come alongside a person and say, ‘OK, how are we going to get this taken care of?’ Part of that approach comes from Fresno Pacific. What I do isn’t just about my career. It’s about how we all fit together in a community.”
Henry sees God’s grace in his journey from a freshman set on pastoring to his current place: a 32-year-old husband and father who keeps the public and firefighters safe. He isn’t certain where he will go professionally in the future.
But, he says, “God still has a plan for me, even though it wasn’t the one I originally thought.
It’s both terrifying and exciting to know there
is still a mystery and adventure out there.”