By Amanda Moss
ROCKINGHAM — The Rockingham Fire Department will be losing a man who has dedicated his life and time to the residents of Rockingham.
Fire Chief Charles Gardner announced his plan to retire on Aug. 21, just 10 days after his 11th anniversary as Rockingham’s fire chief.
Gardner has been working for the city since 1983 when he first started as a part-time firefighter. Since then, Gardner has used his various talents to assist the city in any way he can, first by becoming a full-time firefighter, and then working for the city as a building inspector. Gardner moved to Transylvania County for a period of time before moving back to the city.
“I was asked to come back to work as an inspection superintendent,” Gardner said. “I worked there for about a year before moving back to the fire department.”
Since Aug. 11, 2003, Gardner has been working not only as the fire chief in Rockingham but also helping out with building inspections in the city.
“It has been a lot to keep up with,” Gardner said. “But it has been an honor to serve the city.”
Firefighting has been somewhat of a family tradition for Gardner. His uncle retired as a firefighter with the city of Rockingham, and his father died in the line of service.
“I grew up with it,” Gardner said. “When I first started, I remember driving around in the trucks my dad drove that were 30 years old. There is nothing I could think of that I would want to do more. It really is the greatest thing to do.”
Assistant Chief David Mullis, a firefighter for 34 years, has worked with Gardner during his time as fire chief and has seen the difference that Gardner has made.
“He’s a smart man, and he knows what he’s doing,” Mullis said. “He has a good rapport with the city council, and he has done a lot for the fire department. New vehicles, which we needed, we’ve had more certifications, a training tower installed and a trench. He has kept the fire department moving forward.”
Gardner’s presence and accomplishments will not be easily forgotten by the city. Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris said that as a long-term employee, Gardner will definitely be missed.
“He’s done a great job,” Morris said, adding he has “mixed emotions” on Gardner’s departure.
“I’m happy for (Gardner) and sort of sad for us,” Morris said. “He has been a valuable asset to the city.”
Gardner, at the city’s public meeting Tuesday night, quipped that “the only person I know who’s definitely happy about it right now is my wife.”
Councilman Gene Willard wished Gardner well in his retirement.
“You’ve done a great job,” Willard said. “We appreciate your service.”
City Manager Monty Crump has been a proud friend of Gardner’s for many years and knows the loss the city faces with losing such a public servant.
“His father gave his life in the line of service as a Rockingham fireman and Chuck has unfailingly honored that same commitment with his service to the city of Rockingham,” Crump said in an email to The Daily Journal. “(I am) honored to have served with one of the most dedicated public servants that you could find anywhere and the city is a safer community today due to his leadership as fire chief.”
Gardner plans to take time now to spend with his family and his two grandchildren with one on the way.
Crump said the he plans to “immediately begin the process to hire a new fire chief” and aims to have the position filled before Gardner retires in August.