Local Pilot Named Florida Forest Service’s 2023 Firefighter of the Year

Posted on December 20, 2023 by Staff reports

Pilot Larry Paul is stationed at Blackwater Forestry Center

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson on December announced Larry Paul, wildland firefighter and lead rotor-wing pilot, as the Florida Forest Service’s 2023 Firefighter of the Year. A retired Lt. Commander following a 25-year career in the U.S. Navy, Paul began his Florida Forest Service career in 2007 as a pilot for the Blackwater Forestry Center.

“I am proud to announce Larry Paul as the Florida Forest Service’s 2023 Firefighter of the Year,” said Commissioner Wilton Simpson. “Larry’s dedication to protecting our citizens and natural resources embodies the true spirit of service. His exemplary leadership and selfless commitment make him a shining example of the exceptional men and women serving in the Florida Forest Service.”

Paul stood out among his peers for his dedication to the care and well-being of his fellow firefighters and the citizens of Florida. Paul is not only a skilled pilot but also a natural leader and innovator. He was promoted to head the training program, and he serves as the primary training coordinator and lead pilot for the Florida Forest Service’s rotor-wing section. Paul is also the sign-off pilot for new hires.

“Wildland firefighters risk their lives to protect our residents and natural resources and Larry Paul exemplifies that service,” said Rick Dolan, Director of the Florida Forest Service. “Pilots have a tremendous amount of responsibility and Larry has been invaluable to our mission.”

During one wildfire in Bay County, Paul coordinated more than 1,000 water drops between Florida Forest Service aircraft — all while making 400 drops himself. A month later, Paul helped save some of the 40 homes that were threatened in Oyster Bay. He conducted nearly 150 water drops, most with a sub-30-second turnaround time.

“Every fire is different; every situation is different,” said Larry Paul. “I’m more worried about the guys on the ground, making sure that they have an escape route more than anything.”

The Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages more than 1 million acres of state forests and provides forest management assistance on more than 17 million acres of private and community forests. The Florida Forest Service is also responsible for protecting homes, forestland, and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire.