Berlin VFD Chief retires after 19 years
By Karen Hall
"It almost brings a tear to your eye," said the man who is the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department's new chief. "I just don't want to think about him leaving."
That was new Chief Ray Luna, talking Friday night about the man who has led Berlin's VFD for 19 years: Joe Greer.
It was Greer who introduced Luna to firefighting 15 years ago. Greer and Assistant Fire Chief Bill Turner pulled into Luna's driveway one day when there was a fire behind the house. They got to talking, and Greer invited Luna to try attending their meeting, held the first Monday of each month.
"If it wasn't for Chief Greer stopping in my driveway I wouldn't be here today," said Luna. "It all goes to him -- he took the time to talk to me. They (Berlin VFD) put me through rookie school, and this is where my career started."
Luna, 38, is now a Shift Captain with the Lewisburg Fire Department, as well as Berlin's new leader. When he had that fateful conversation with Greer, Luna had a good job at Walker Die Casting, but gave it up for firefighting.
"Something about putting a fire out excited me more," he said. Five other members of Berlin VFD are also employed at the Lewisburg Fire Department.
"We've been the launching pad for a fire career for a number of guys," said Greer. "They all love to have a good job as a paid firefighter, but they still stay with us" as well.
That's a thing he's proud of, and so are Berlin's two brand new fire engines, obtained for pennies on the dollar thanks to Federal Emergency Management Agency grants that Greer applied for.
The 21 members of the department also have new turnout gear, thanks to another grant Greer got for the department.
So why is Greer retiring?
"Nineteen years is a long time," he said. "This job will wear you out over time. It's time for some new enthusiasm in the department."
More importantly, he and his wife Sandra are moving to Asheville, N.C. where Greer will be preaching full time at a Church of Christ.
"It's doubly hard for me," he said. "Walking away from the fire department and 26 years in the community -- that's hard to do. We have a lot of friends here."
Greer, who turned 54 the day after his retirement party, went on to say, "The success of a fire department is not dependent on one person. It has to be a collective effort for what is right and good. There has to be leadership, and willingness to work with it."
It helps to have a supportive spouse, too.
"Sandra has been an incredible support in everything I've done," Greer said. "Being fire chief requires a tremendous amount of time. It takes away from family time, and without the support of your spouse you will not succeed."
Greer also credits a very special friendship with Turner, who has worked with him on every project.
Turner was one of the founders of the Berlin VFD in 1986. His own house burned in 1978.
"There was not a lot of fire protection around here then," Turner explained. The first chief was Jimmie Pruitt.
In 2013 the Berlin Fire Department answered 65 calls, down from about 100 in 2012, Turner said. About two-thirds of those were medical calls, where firefighters assisted the ambulance service, and one-third were grass fires. They have a mutual aid agreement with all the fire departments in the county, and also answer calls in the neighboring portion of Maury County.
Community members, firefighters past and present, chiefs from other departments, and officials including County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett and Emergency Management Agency Director Bob Hopkins packed the fellowship room at the fire department to say goodbye to Greer. With him to North Carolina will go signed pictures; his old helmet, with signatures from all the firefighters; and a fire ax on a special wooden plaque, handmade by firefighter Darwin Dixon.