PEF member celebrated for 40 years of service - Mahlon Irish
Mahlon Irish accepts plaque from the New York Fire Protection Specialists for his 40 years of service as a New York State Fire Instructor.

March 7, 2024 — For many, choosing a career path starts in high school and sticking to that path is often the goal. However, it doesn’t always work out that way. PEF member Mahlon Irish, for example, didn’t expect to work in fire service for 50 years. And when it comes to being a State Fire Instructor, he certainly didn’t expect to go this far. 

“I initially wanted to be an architect, when I was in high school,” Irish said. “I would never have thought I would have lasted here for 40 years.” 

Irish was recently recognized by the New York State Fire Protection Specialists for his 40 years of service as a State Fire Instructor. He was presented with a letter of recognition from the State Fire Administrator, a proclamation from the Cortland County Legislature and County Fire Instructors, and many more accolades from local firefighters and Fire Service members. 

Irish has been working in fire service since 1974. He worked in the fire station at Homer Fire Department in Homer, N.Y., until he decided to take the test to become a career firefighter in June 1990. Thanks to his years of service, Irish is something of an expert on fire safety and firefighting, which is why, as a 20-year career firefighter, he became a State Fire Instructor. 

State Fire Instructors (SFI) work with the Office of Fire Prevention and Control (OFPC), which is a part of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES). SFIs must have a wealth of experience to work for the state, including five years of service as a fire fighter, and at least two years of experience as an instructor at a company office level.  

SFI work is done on a part-time basis, which allows Irish to continue to volunteer as a firefighter while teaching other volunteers and career firefighters. 

“There are hundreds, if not thousands of instructors across the state,” Irish said. “When I started in Cortland County, there were only two teachers. Now there are eight instructors assigned to the county.” 

Irish said that he loves teaching and making sure firefighters are doing their job as safely and sustainably as possible. However, he has found fulfillment not only thanks to being an SFI, but also by taking the lead educating on the No. 1 killer of firefighters: Cancer. 

In April 2014, Irish was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had no family history of the disease.  

“I most likely got cancer from being a firefighter,” Irish said. “Due to the exposure and due to the gear we wear during work.” 

While dealing with his illness, Irish learned that many other men in the field also develop prostate cancer. However, none of his colleagues wanted to talk about the treatments or even the diagnosis, out of embarrassment. 

“I felt like something needed to be done to educate other firefighters about how to prevent or reduce the likelihood of getting cancer from the job,” Irish said. 

Irish started the Cancer Prevention Program as a way to educate members of his own department on how best to keep themselves safe. He has since gone on to teach at more than 300 fire departments and spoken with more than 3,500 firefighters. 

His program caught the eye of Timothy Graves, another PEF member and Fire Protection Specialist at DHSES who has begun to write a course based on Irish’s program.  

“It has been a long journey, but I am glad I’ve been able to talk with people about this,” Irish said. “And hopefully some more lives will be saved.” 

Even though he retired from fire service in 2012, Irish has plans to retire completely, as an SFI and from the cancer prevention program. 

“I am proud of the work I’ve done and I am proud of myself. But I think it is time to pass this all on to younger generations,” he said.