Surrendering the Dream

Alumnus Discovers New Calling After Tragedy

By Valerie McArthur '18
9/27/2018 10:40:20 PM

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With nine years experience as a Little Rock firefighter, Marvin Benton thought he would be a firefighter his whole life. But in 1993, everything changed when he was trapped by burning debris during a search and rescue mission and almost lost his life.

Benton sustained third-degree burns on nearly 40 percent of his body. He endured surgeries and skin grafting to transplant healthy skin from one part of his body to the injured section. It took two years to recover from the physical and emotional injuries, and several years after to rediscover his purpose.

“It was pretty devastating to realize I would never be a firefighter again,” Benton said.

Since the injury, Benton has become a college graduate, author, motivational speaker and received a Medal of Valor.

“For my career to end like it did, you have to feel like it was all in God’s hands for me to be a firefighter,” Benton said.

“For a while after I got hurt I wondered ‘why me?’ I finally realized ‘why not me?’ Maybe other people couldn’t handle it the way I did.”

It took Benton several years to come to peace with the accident, as he desperately wanted to stay in uniform. To keep that dream alive, Benton’s first job after the accident was as a fire prevention educator, teaching fire safety to children and adults. But it was difficult, so he moved on to another role with the City of Little Rock in 1999.

“It was hard to see the truck go out and have to stay behind,” Benton said.

Benton went back to school and received his bachelor’s degree in organizational management from JBU Online in 2001. This degree not only helped him get his position as assistant solid waste collection supervisor, a position he held for 11 years, but it also showed his then high-school-aged daughters the value of receiving a college education.

Benton has continued working for the City of Little Rock in various capacities and currently serves as a parking enforcement coordinator. He says the job still enables him to work for the betterment of people’s lives. This attitude of service and encouragement has been the constant thread through all of Benton’s positions.

“(As a firefighter) you had to be positive while you were working, so you could give people hope and get them out of the situation,” Benton said.

For many years Benton has also spent time sharing his story at fire academies, universities, government organizations and churches across Central Arkansas. While not his full-time job, Benton enjoys telling his story as long as people want to listen.

In 2016, Benton, along with his wife Valerie, wrote the memoir “Unfallen Hero,” to tell Benton’s story and to challenge readers to live with the provocative boldness of an unfallen hero.

The book follows Benton’s life from childhood to the years following the accident and explores many of the trials and tribulations he experienced, as well as his faith in God.

Benton and Valerie wrote “Unfallen Hero” mostly during family vacations, with Benton talking and Valerie writing on her computer as they traveled.

“Some of it brought back bad memories,” Benton said, “We had to recreate the fire, talk about the hurt and trying to stay on the job… those parts were hard.”

However, Valerie believes that God wanted them to write the book to encourage others.

“Everyone who’s read the book, has felt inspired,” she said. “It’s a great testimony about not giving up and to keep on believing.”

When Benton speaks to groups, he encourages people to never give up, to go for their dreams and most of all, to pray for God’s salvation no matter the situation.

“When I was trapped, I thought I was going to die in the fire. Then I prayed to God and knew I was going to be okay,” he said. Benton believes that without that prayer he would have died within five minutes.

Prayer was also pivotal in his recovery as friends and family stopped by the hospital and prayed for his health.

In 2016, the Little Rock Fire Department established the Marvin Benton Hero Award in honor of Benton’s resilience and perseverance. The award is given annually, beginning in 2017, to a firefighter who has demonstrated bravery in the line of duty.

Benton is truly appreciative of this honor, and the award has served to reinforce Benton’s newfound purpose to motivate others.

“Bad things happen to good people,” he said. “You can’t just give up because things happen.”