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Lessons learned in military carrying Hometown Hero through life

CHAMPAIGN -- Firefighters go through countless hours of training to be ready when the calls come.
CHAMPAIGN -- Firefighters go through countless hours of training to be ready when the calls come. Thousands of those in Illinois are trained right here in Champaign. But, the man who leads them, isn't a firefighter at all. WCIA-3's Amanda Porterfield introduces this Hometown Hero.

Colonel Royal Mortenson has never fought a fire, but has plenty of experience to make up for it.

"Marines are trained in an environment where every impulse in our body says run away and they have to go in. Firefighting is the same thing."

As Director of the Illinois Fire Service Institute, he makes sure firefighters trained here get the job done and that they're leaders. He's earned more than a dozen medals over 30 years of service.

"I was a man because of my father, but the the Marine Corps teaches you how to be a man as well. Probably accountability is the thing I learned the most."

But, he says his proudest moment is leading 1,000 soldiers into Iraq, in 2003.

"I would have done it for free. I look back. I went places and did things; lead men in combat in Iraq and had experiences I will never forget. It was an extraordinary life. I am happy to have done it. You always wish you could turn the clock back and start over."

In a way, he has. One son is in the Navy; the other, a Marine colonel.

"That was an amazing journey. I don't always miss the Marine Corps, but I miss the Marines."

Last year, the Fire Service Institute trained about 65,000 firefighters from around the state.
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