WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Friends, family and former colleagues gathered today at the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department to celebrate the life and legacy of retired firefighter Mike Garner.
Garner spent many years as a volunteer with the former Seagate volunteer Fire Department, where he worked his way up to assistant chief. He also served at Pender County Fire.
Garner joined the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department after the Seagate Department closed and he retired from Dupont.
He had just retired from the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department before his life was cut short Tuesday in a car crash. A procession was held earlier this week in his honor.
A number of people shared memories and stories about Garner at today’s ceremony, and it’s clear he made a lasting impression on every life he touched.
“He was a strong businessman, he was an excellent person that was good at management, and a great leader,” said Captain Kevin McDonald with New Hanover County fire rescue. “He was also hard on us 18 to 24 year olds that were making some silly decisions and he was very quick to put us in our place and tell us how it was, in the right way, and lead us as a strong mentor.”
McDonald first met Garner in 1992 when he volunteered for Seagate Fire. He said Garner never hesitated to pass on his wealth of knowledge.
“A lot of the fire service refer to [Garner] as the senior man, somebody that is full of wisdom as a strong mentor, and when he speaks we need to listen to him,” McDonald said.
Some said Garner trained and taught thousands of young firefighters over his long career.
“I believe every day that every firefighter runs a call, there’s something they’ll do that Mike taught them and they can use on the job at the time,” said Division Chief Scott Sills of Pender EMS and Fire.
Garner also had more nicknames than most will ever receive in a lifetime. He earned the nickname “Chiefy” because of the leadership and advice he passed down to countless others.
“Mike was always willing to teach the skills and the knowledge that he had learned growing up through the fire service himself,” Sills said. “And he never minded sharing that with the younger generation to help them grow.”
Not only will he be remembered as a great teacher, but Mike will also be remembered for his love of coffee.
“He was always known for having a cup of coffee or making a cup of coffee,” McDonald said. “That was his way.”
But above all, Garner will be remembered for his passion and love for being a firefighter.
“One of the best quotes I’ve heard in the fire service, all over the place, is “It’s okay to love your job,” and I believe that that’s one of those sayings that Mike really embodied,” said Chief Glen Rogers of the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department.