After 37 years, Gainesville Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough is retiring at the end of the year.
“It’s just that time,” Yarbrough said Thursday, Sept. 16. “I’ve come a long way since I’ve been here, especially since I’ve been chief… We’re at a point here at the fire department where we can make that transition.”
He was promoted to fire chief in March 2013, becoming the first African-American to hold the position in the city’s history. And Yarbrough was also one of the first Black people hired by the department when he started in 1984, he said.
“A lot of people don’t know that in this town,” Yarbrough said. “It is significant. That’s a great accomplishment, because that was one of my dreams was to do stuff like that,” he said, of breaking racial barriers in the city.
Yarbrough, 62, was born and raised in Gainesville and even played football at Gainesville High School. He graduated in 1977 before serving as a medic in the U.S. Army. He worked in the Hall County’s Sheriff’s Office from 1982-1984 before joining the Gainesville Fire Department in 1984, rising up the ranks throughout his career. His experience in the military helped with leadership skills during his career in the fire department, he said.
“I’ve just come through the ranks as a firefighter, driver, lieutenant, captain, fire marshall, fire inspector, deputy chief and then chief, so it’s been a journey,” Yarbrough said. “It’s been a calling for me and a privilege to serve. … If I could go back and choose any occupation or any career, I’d probably do the same path that I went.”
In the 1980s, the department might only get 450 calls per year, Yarbrough said, but these days they respond to 14,000 calls. “We’ve had to step up to the plate and compete with growth,” he said.
Training has also increased since he first started, when firefighters might only require short shift training sessions, and now, new firefighters must complete 240 hours of training.
Throughout his tenure the fire department has maintained the highest fire department rating of an ISO class one rating, City Manager Bryan Lackey wrote in a statement. The rating has to do with the amount of training a department conducts, availability of water, equipment and other considerations, Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough doesn’t have big plans for retirement.
“I’m going to take a little time off, spend time with family, might do a little traveling,” he said. “I just feel like I’ve completed a career. And if I don’t do nothing else, I’m satisfied.”