HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – With just over two months on the job, the new Horry County Fire Rescue Chief is setting a new tone for the organization while working to get to know a staff of hundreds.
WMBF News Anchor Lisa Gresci sat down with the man newly in charge of about 800 of the men and woman who come to the rescue when you have an emergency.
Horry County Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Tanner wants everyone to know, he's ready to look forward as a leader.
Chief Tanner took over as fire chief in the beginning of December. While it's no secret some of Horry County's first responders were recently upset over changes to overtime pay and other benefits, Tanner wants to start fresh.
"It's my goal right now to get out there and meet with everyone and just see how things are going and what their concerns are," Tanner said.
Chief Tanner comes to Horry County after serving 31 years with the Georgetown Fire Department. For 18 of those years, he was chief.
"I want them to know that I'm going to take care of them the best I know how to do that, and I can relate to them when they tell me certain things, because I've been there," Tanner explained.
For Tanner, he says public safety is in his blood. His grandfather was a fire chief, his father is a fire chief, his brother is a deputy fire chief and he's a career firefighter.
"I started as a firefighter cleaning floors, I started as a volunteer actually in Johnsonville, my hometown" Tanner said.
"I moved to Georgetown and started as a rookie firefighter and moved up through every position in the department to become the fire chief of the department, and I don't forget where I came from," he added.
Tanner wants everyone to know, when he makes decisions, he makes them based on his past experiences and his knowledge about where things stand today. Tanner understands he can't make everyone happy all of the time. That being said, Tanner believes himself to be a leader, and that it's important to always take into account everyone's beliefs and the fact people will always have their own fundamental ways of doing things.
However, for the success of the organization that is made up of both volunteer and career first responders, Tanner said there has to be a team structure.
"Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter if you have a fire department of 45 or a fire department….fire rescue of 800. The people that call you... they don't care who you are, how you get there...they want you to come and respond to their emergency and take care of them," Tanner explained.
Yes, Tanner did come from, in his words, a significantly smaller fire department of about 45 men and women. But also, he carries with him an experience he'll never forget: the Georgetown fire of 2013 that ripped through a large apartment complex.
"We had this building explode on us in the middle of what's going on, as we're getting ready to enter the same building and at the same time, we're looking up and trying to make sure people are out of the building. And we see people in windows on the second floor," Tanner recalled.
Tanner came face-to-face with what he says is his worst nightmare: the chance of losing his fire fighters and citizens. Tanner said it was a real-life test of being a true leader.
"It takes you to a point of realizing that I'm sending someone who is taking my word to go into a building that they may not come back out…and so you don't take that as face value," Tanner said.
To Tanner, it was God's grace that no one was killed in that fire. He believes serving in public safety is much more than just the job at hand. It's a bond, it's family.
"We see people the worst in their life. The worst thing that can happen to someone that day. There's people in a fire truck or an EMS unit, that are there working to help and they can't share that with anyone else because nobody else knows that unless they've been there," he explained.
Tanner understands these men and women responding to 911 calls, see what no person on this Earth would want to see, and though he may be new on the job, he guarantees the direction Horry County Fire Rescue is heading is a good one.
"I believe that we have a bright future... I really believe that," Tanner said.
While sitting down with Tanner, he said because the department is so large, it has a lot of constantly-moving parts. With that many people, Tanner said he knows there will be issues, but he wants to solve those issues face to face, as a team.