By day, Bryant Garner serves as fleet and travel administrator for Merz North America, Inc., a specialty healthcare company that develops and commercializes innovative treatment solutions in aesthetics, dermatology, and neurology in the U.S. and Canada. For the last four years, he has managed the Merz travel program and is responsible for the management and procurement of the company’s 300 fleet vehicles.
But, in his off hours, Garner plays a much different role — serving as fire chief of the Mayodan, N.C., Fire Department.
Originally from Trinity, N.C., Garner moved to Mayodan when he married his wife, Anne, a Mayodan native. He joined the volunteer fire department soon after settling into the community. “I wanted to become involved in the community and felt the fire department would allow me to do that as well as allow me to help others,” he said.
That was in 1994. Now, nearly 20 years later, he has held the positions of firefighter, lieutenant, captain, and, since 2004, chief.
As fire chief, Garner is responsible for the overall operation of the department — including scheduling continuing education courses for firefighters, writing grants for equipment funding, and working closely with the town council to manage the department’s budget.
By nature, fire fighting is a dramatic business, and Garner has seen his share of loss and recovery. Among all emergencies he’s experienced, the worst he’s ever faced was the F3 tornado that struck Mayodan in 1998.
“The devastation of our town was something I had never seen; the department spent three days on calls trying to clear debris and provide supplies to those who were in need,” he said. “The tragedy did have one positive effect for me — I got to see a small community who banded together and helped slowly put our town back together.”
Garner’s experience with the 1998 tornado is reflective of his experience as a whole being fire chief. The most challenging part, he said, is seeing the loss of life the department occasionally encounters. But, at the same time, he also reaps the rewards of seeing how the fire department positively affects his community.
“The most rewarding part of serving the Mayodan Fire Department is two-fold,” he said, “First, I am able to provide a service to citizens who are exposed to danger and can offer them some level of safety and comfort. Second, words cannot express the feeling of pride I feel when a victim of tragedy comes to me and expresses their appreciation for our help.”
While, at first, one might think the roles of fire chief and fleet administrator are very different, Garner finds a common link: safety.
“As both fleet administrator and fire chief, I am responsible for the safety of others,” he said. “As a fireman, my job involves emergency situations where my decisions are crucial to the safety of others. As fleet administrator, I am responsible for providing vehicles to our sales force that, I feel, are safe and that will provide protection for the driver.”
Twenty years ago, Garner wouldn’t have imagined he’d log two decades of service and rise through the ranks to become fire chief. But, now, it’s hard to imagine a life without it.
“When I joined the fire department, I wanted only to become a part of my community and provide my help to others, but it has turned out to be a way of life for me,” he said. “I would encourage anyone who has a desire to help others to visit their local fire department and learn more about the programs they offer.”