‘I love helping people’: North Myrtle Beach Fire Chief Garry Spain set to retire

Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 11:22 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 15, 2023 at 11:37 PM EDT
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NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - After 35 years, 8 years with the North Myrtle Beach Fire Department, Chief Garry Spain is set to retire.

“It takes a different breed of individual, as we’ve all heard, to run into a building when everyone else is running out,” said Spain.

Spain’s career began with the Raleigh Fire Department in 1988 after he met his father-in-law who was retired from the department.

“All I heard from my father-in-law was what a great career it was for him,” said Spain.

During his time in Raleigh, Spain climbed the ladder of command, reaching the assistant fire chief’s floor.

“I left the city as it was growing, the department was growing and I was fortunate enough to be assistant fire chief,” said Spain.

In 2015, Spain got the call to head the department in North Myrtle Beach, an opportunity he knew was right.

“When I became chief, we were the Public Safety Department. What that means is our firefighters were police officers. Everyone had a dual role,” said Spain.

Seeing the need for separation, the North Myrtle Beach Fire Department was formed in 2021. The police department was also formed that year.

“When I started 8 years ago, the command staff for the Public Safety Department was me and the rest was the police command staff,” he said.

Fast-forward to today, there is a deputy fire chief, fire marshall, training department, and more.

Deputy Chief Billy Floyd has been selected as Spain’s replacement on April 21.

“For me personally, there is a lot that he has done for me to help me get prepared for my own career pushing forward,” said Floyd.

Tragedy struck Spain’s family in 2012 when his son Jacob Spain died after suffering a brain aneurysm. That moment is as vivid today, as when it happened.

“My wife and I were out celebrating our anniversary and Jacob had gone to an awards ceremony at a friend’s home. His friends said he stood up and gave a speech. When he sat down, about five minutes later, they said they thought he had fallen asleep. He actually had a rupture from the brain aneurysm,” Spain recalled.

When he and his wife received the phone call, they raced over to the home and found emergency services on the scene.

“They were doing CPR on him and that department did not allow firefighters to ride along in the ambulance with the patient,” Spain said.

The EMTs were able to get a pulse on Jacob and loaded him into the ambulance.

Getting in his vehicle and speeding ahead of the ambulance transporting his son, a police officer pulled Spain over.

“It was a blessing in disguise because the ambulance was able to pass me, and at about two miles up the road, the ambulance stopped because my son had coded again,” said Spain.

This time because they only had two people in the unit, Spain was able to board and work on his son trying to save his life. Jacob made it to the hospital, where unfortunately a scan of his brain showed no activity. After being transferred to another medical center the following day, he was pronounced dead.

“He was an organ donor and on the 21st, which is our other son’s birthday, he had his organ donation surgery. He is the biggest hero in our family,” said Spain.

Spain does not know how many lives were saved through the donation but said he is proud of his son for being a donor.

The Spain life of service lives on through his other son Colton Spain, who is a Raleigh Fire Department lieutenant. Jacob was the son who wanted to be a firefighter, while Colton had other plans.

“Colton went to North Carolina University and graduated with a degree in business management. When he finished that, I was the logistics chief for Raleigh Fire Department and I needed a quarter master part-time and hired him,” said Spain.

Spain said he would not have been as successful in his role without a team effort, which includes the city council.

“I have to thank Mayor Hatley and the council for always helping us with what we need,” said Spain.

For six-term Mayor Marilyn Hatley, seeing Spain go is bittersweet.

“He has brought so much integrity and has worked with all of our firemen. He is loved by all or our firemen and women,” said Hatley.

Spain continues to work on allocating funds for the department as he prepares to head back to North Carolina to be near his son Colton. He and his wife plan to be active in their church when they return. A fun fact, Spain has an identical twin brother who is also a fire chief. Service really does run in the family.