ROCKINGHAM — Today is Charles Gardner’s last day as a fireman.
The Rockingham Fire Department chief will be hanging up his helmet for good at the end of the day.
City officials held a Tuesday reception at the fire department to thank him for his many years of service to the community.
“He’s been a dedicated employee,” Mayor Steve Morris said of Gardner. “He’s emphasized training and better education for the firefighters.”
Gardner began his 31-year career as a firefighter in Rockingham in 1983, spending 27 years off and on at his hometown department.
He said he decided to go into the fire service after growing up around it.
His father, a Rockingham fireman, was killed while fighting a blaze April 5, 1973.
Gardner spent 14 years here before moving to Brevard where he ran the inspections department in Transylvania County.
After four years there, he said he “came back and finished out the rest” — 11 years as the chief.
He said it’s “hard to say” how many fires he’s put out over the years, adding that he’s responded to an average of 250-300 calls per year in the past 10 years.
Though he’s battled blazes for three decades, Gardner said the reception would probably stick out in his mind the most, with friends and co-workers coming to see him off to retirement.
“A fitting end to a long career,” he said.
Gardner said he’s looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren.
“They’re a handful,” he said.
The 53-year-old has three grandchildren — two here and one in Tennessee — and one on the way.
“Might as well get out while I’m still young enough to enjoy something,” he said.
Gardner said he has no thoughts of working with any volunteer fire departments.
“I’m pretty much done,” he said.
The man filling Gardner’s fire boots is Harold Isler.
The Goldsboro native spent 17 years at his local department, making captain in 2004.
Isler has a two-year degree in communications and a four-year degree in business with a concentration in public administration from the University of Phoenix. He recently earned his master’s in administration with a concentration in leadership from Central Michigan.
Isler is married with one child — a 9-year-old daughter named Destiny — with another on the way. His wife, Tesha, was hired as an academic coach at L.J. Bell Elementary.
Morris said Isler has “fantastic qualifications” and an outstanding record in Goldsboro.
“He’s already started to blend in well with the other firefighters,” Morris said. “He’ll be a good chief.”
Isler said he’s planning to assess the department starting Thursday and have a change of administration meeting next Monday.
“Chief Gardner has some good things in place that I’m going to continue to use,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675.