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Pinnacle 2023 Quick Take: EMS leaders with a personal ‘why’ can adapt and succeed as they serve others

Cody Byrnes shared how his ultimate purpose fueled his recovery from serious burn injuries to continue delivering hope to others


Cody Byrns delivers his keynote, “From Stuck to Empowered,” at the Pinnacle EMS leadership conference.

Photo/Kerri Hatt

This article is part of EMS1’s Pinnacle 2023 coverage. Check out more insights from this year’s conference.

SAN ANTONIO — Cody Byrns, an entertainer, speaker, pastor and burn survivor, gave a motivational and inspirational talk, “From Stuck to Empowered,” at the Pinnacle EMS leadership conference.

After opening with a couple of dad jokes and a short juggling act, Byrns transitioned to sharing the story of the day he was struck from behind at a red light. He had just turned 23 and was living his dream as a children’s pastor delivering hope to others. His next memory was waking up in the hospital and his mother explaining to him that he was in a burn unit with burns across 40% of his body. At that moment, Byrnes recommitted to his why – to deliver hope – to motivate himself through recovery.


Cody Byrns, an entertainer, speaker, pastor and burn survivor.

Memorable quotes

Though Byrnes delivered several memorable one-liners, making light of his burns and recovery, here are four memorable quotes from his presentation.

“I love this quote, ‘when you know your why, you can endure any how.’ I always knew my why was to deliver a message of hope.”

“When you are in show business, you need to know how to work the crowd.”

“Great leaders are always learning new skills, even when it is uncomfortable.”

“Get to the root of the problem and break free to move forward.”

Top takeaways

Each year, Pinnacle opens with a keynote speaker from outside EMS to give attendees insights applicable to their professional challenges and opportunities. Here are 4 top takeaways from Byrn’s keynote presentation.

1. We all encounter stoplights

Byrn’s stoplight and injuries nearly killed him, and he faced a rollercoaster of a recovery process. EMS leaders and professionals encounter stoplights, barriers and blocks throughout their lives and careers. When you hit one of those stoplights, remember your why or your purpose as motivation for moving forward.

Byrnes explained his EPIC model for moving past stoplights as:

  • Embrace challenges

  • Provide perspective

  • Implement change

  • Celebrate and serve

2. Leadership is sometimes show business

Byrnes volunteered an attendee to come on stage to learn how to juggle. A reluctant, but willing, EMS leader followed Byrnes’ instructions to help entertain the crowd. EMS leaders don’t need to be entertainers, but they do need to take some risks in front of others to learn and lead.

3. Keep learning and be willing to adapt

Constantly learning is important to adapting to new circumstances and situations. As EMS leaders well know, the challenges the industry faces require adaptability and the acquisition of new knowledge.

4. Understand your ultimate purpose

Byrns believes that business problems often reflect the personal problems people are facing. He returned to the theme that “great leaders understand their ultimate purpose.” It is with that personal “why” that leaders can empower their team. Even though these are common sense for leadership, they might not be common practice:

  • Build trust with the team

  • Build rapport and understand the needs of the team

  • Show you care by developing compassion with those you lead

  • Share successes of how the team is making a difference

Learn more

Byrnes shares more about his recovery and faith in his book, “Scar Release.”

Find additional inspiration in these past Pinnacle keynote articles:

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.