He is a musician, pastor, state-certified clown and, beginning Monday, the Bartow County fire marshal.
A native of Bartow County, Garland has spent almost four decades in the fire service, beginning in Adairsville and spending 35 years with the city of Rome. In February he left the Floyd County agency’s fire prevention bureau to accept the Bartow County position.
“... This opportunity came up and it was in line with what I wanted to do, and I was fortunate enough, blessed enough to be able to get it,” he said.
The pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church followed music into the ministry. An 18-year-old Garland began playing drums with a group in Cartersville, which led to his salvation.
“God put a strong burden on my heart for young people, teenagers, at that time my age, had no clue what to do about it. ... My wife and I got married in 1977, and it was sometime after we got married that we were at Oak Grove Baptist in Adairsville, where I’m at now, ... I told the pastor that we had at the time, ‘You know, we need to do something for our teenagers that we have here.’ He said, ‘OK, what are you going to do?’ I was like, ‘Who? Me?’” Garland said. “It’s just like the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, ‘That’s your calling.’ So for 28 years I was a youth minister.”
Name: Gary Garland
City of Residence: Bartow County
Occupation: Bartow County fire marshal
Family: I am happily married for almost 37 years. I have two children — both grown, three grandchildren. I’m very proud of all of them.
Education: I graduated from Cass High School 1974, long time ago. A lot of different college courses, no actual degree.
What has your career path been in the fire service?
A: I have been in the fire service for, July will be 37 years. I started out with the city of Adairsville. I was the third firefighter hired for the city of Adairsville fire department when they first decided to go to a paid fire department. I stayed there about a year and a half, then went to the city of Rome, rode the truck in the city of Rome for 18 years, then transferred into the fire prevention bureau and worked there for 17 years. ... Feb. 12 was 35 years with the city of Rome. This opportunity came up and it was in line with what I wanted to do, and I was fortunate enough, blessed enough to be able to get it.
Coming in as fire marshal, what is your first priority?
A: First priority? There’s so many priorities already and I haven’t even started to work. We’ve got a lot of work to do in our inspections area; that’s going to be a high priority for us. Probably the biggest thing we’ve got to do is really beef up our education. I don’t say that in derogatory terms by any means because I haven’t really been able to see a lot of what’s being done in the education part, but anything to do with the fire marshal’s office revolves around education. Our job is to educate the public how to be fire safe. So I’ve really got to take a hard look at what we’ve been doing here and decide which way to go with it from there.
What do you see as the biggest challenge or greatest advantage this office has?
A: I don’t see a large hurdle. I see a lot of work ahead of us.
The biggest advantage I see is that everybody I have met from the top down has been very, I don’t want to say supportive, more like they are anxious to see the fire marshal’s position open up and start branching out into the area where it needs to go, such as the education and educating the public, finding ways to get the word out to people of all ages that they can be fire safe. I see that as a huge, tremendous advantage to me is that I’ve got support from every chief that I’ve talked to, county administration I’ve talked to, everyone, the men on the truck, everybody I’ve seen, men and women on the truck. Everyone I’ve met and talked to has been very supportive and excited about what is taking place.
Why do you think fire safety education has been so lacking?
A: Tradition. The fire service has always been about putting wet stuff on red stuff and making black stuff. It has only been in the last maybe 15 or 20 years that that has really started to change direction. People are starting to see now, people in the fire service, even the ones who are riding the big red trucks are starting to see that there’s got to be a better way. And the better way is to educate the public. If we can educate the public and stop one fire from happening, we’ve been successful. If we can save someone’s life, then we’ve been successful.
Is there a case or incident in the past 37 years that has impacted you?
A: Not one, not that I can think of. I have been involved in a lot of education opportunities where we have gotten feedback ... particularly in educating children who went home then and told their parents.
One in particular I can think of, we educated a child and ... the mother was there with the, I think there was two, children. She was doing laundry, ran out of laundry detergent, the little store close by the house. She says, “I’ll be back,” goes to the store. While she’s gone, the house catches on fire. The child gets everyone, the other siblings ... got them all out of the house safely. When they asked them how did they know [what to do], they referred back to the education they had received through the fire service.
What do you think makes Bartow County special?
A: Bartow County is a very rapidly growing community, but at the same time, it still holds the small-town, country atmosphere that I grew up with. Even though you have huge industry coming in, the atmosphere of the people that you meet and talk to still have that small-town attitude, personality.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I don’t like vegetables. Something a lot people don’t know if they just meet me — the people I work with know this — but the people that I just meet would not know and probably would not suspect that I am a state-certified clown. ... The Georgia Firefighters Clown Society has been in existence for a number of years and I am one of the lead instructors for that course.
... Actually I got into clowning because we were having vacation Bible school at church and my wife, who was directing the VBS that particular year, said, “We need a clown. Go dress up.” I had no idea what to do at clowning, but I did it anyway. I knew better than not to. And so I started trying to do some clowning for that — had no clue what I was doing. It wasn’t long after that that one of the guys that I worked at the time, who was also an instructor in clowning class, let me know that there was something available through the fire service. So I said, “That sounds like a lot of fun.” I went to the class, took the class and fell in love with it. Still involved in it and that’s been, oh goodness, I guess, about 14, 15 years now.
What is your favorite meal?
A: Favorite meal? Steak and mashed potatoes, I guess.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things could you not live without?
A: My Bible, my wife and my children.
What are your hobbies?
A: Sure. One thing I like to do is geocache and I ride motorcycle. I play three musical instruments, none of them well. ... Guitar, bass guitar and drums. Drums is my primary instrument. ... I love to read. I love to watch old TV shows, old movies, black-and-white stuff, that color stuff is bad for your eyesight.