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Yarbrough takes over Gainesville department after 28 years

Fire chief serves city that helped raise him

POSTED: March 10, 2013 12:03 a.m.
TOM REED /The Times

Gainesville Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough, left, talks with Division Chief Scott Stowers.

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Life wasn’t always easy growing up in a single-parent household, Gainesville Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough said, but he gives a lot of credit to the community for how he turned out.

“I was born here, grew up here,” Yarbrough said. “I went to Gainesville High School and played football, and that whole experience helped me in getting acclimated to what was going on in the world.

“As a kid out there running the street, my mom opted to drop me off every day at the Boys & Girls Clubs, and there they instilled me with some good characteristics and responsibilities,” he said.

Yarbrough has spent the past 28 years serving the city that helped raised him. After serving as interim fire chief since October, he was officially sworn in as the permanent chief at the March 5 Gainesville City Council meeting.

City Manager Kip Padgett said the city looked at between 40 and 50 applications and interviewed seven or eight candidates, including Yarbrough, who was interviewed like the others, although he was interim chief at the time.

“We looked at years of service, knowledge of the fire service in general and knowledge of the city in general, and Chief Yarbrough was exceptional in all of those areas,” Padgett said. “And he did an excellent job as interim chief.”

After graduating from Gainesville High School, Yarbrough attended Lanier Technical College as well as the Georgia Public Safety Training Center and the National Fire Academy. He is a member of the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs, Georgia State Firefighters Association, National Fire Protection Association and the International Fire Marshal’s Association.

He began his career of public service in the military.

“As an army medic, I picked up some skills related to the fire service,” he said. “It was a passion, and I knew I wanted to work for the fire department.”

After the army, he worked for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

“I had the fire department in my mind. But instead of just sitting around, I went to work and increased my skills in that law enforcement side,” he said.

Those skills did later serve his career, he said.

“When I was promoted to marshal, that experience was helpful, because being a marshal involves investigations, things of a similar nature,” he said.

Yarbrough didn’t come from a family legacy in law enforcement.

“I’m the sole one right now. I have a brother-in-law who’s a police officer in Atlanta, and he told me about the police side of it, but mainly I’m the only one in my family,” he said.

In the time since Yarbrough rode in the back of the engine to fight fires in the 1980s, a lot has changed, he said.

“We don’t just respond to fires anymore,” he said. “We get calls from a mother who lives by herself and fell and is on the floor; we get calls if someone doesn’t have insurance, they call the fire department. We have to be ready to respond. We train in hazmat (hazardous materials), confined spaces, high angles, ‘jaws of life’ unit. There’s so much.”

And while fire fighters have always borne the first responder responsibility, Yarbrough said they have embraced more of a role in homeland security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks shook the county and fire departments across the county.

“We realized that we have to respond, and we have to be prepared, and that means we have to be prepared for anything, even the worst-case scenarios from a homeland security standpoint,” he said.

Eleven years later, the department is meeting those challenges, Yarbrough said .

“We’re focused in our goals, and I think we’re in line to keep up and withstand what the future brings,” he said.

Yarbrough said one of the best aspects of his job is that it naturally attracts the best public servants.

“I’ve got a good group of guys. There’s nothing I can ask them to do that they don’t already do,” he said. “It’s a calling. A lot of people seek employment for money. For a fire fighter, it’s more than that. It’s a desire to serve people, to serve humanity.”

Yarbrough also devotes time to serving the city’s youth. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County and Safe Kids, and has been coaching youth football for almost 20 years with city parks and recreation.

“I want to continue to coach and be a role model for these young boys, like so many people were for me,” he said.


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