07/03/09 — Whaley officially will lead city FD

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Whaley officially will lead city FD

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on July 3, 2009 1:46 PM

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Gary Whaley

In September 1982, Gary Whaley was a young firefighter, just hired on to his first full-time job with the Goldsboro Fire Department.

Thursday, he became the department's chief after serving as "acting chief" following the controversial resignation of his predecessor, Alvin Ward, in October.

Whaley will take the department's top job as a man who worked his way up through the ranks, spending 27 years in various jobs with the department.

His salary will be $78,708, City Manager Joe Huffman said.

Whaley still remembers his first major fire, which happened just one month after he started in 1982. Not long after that first fire, he also helped put out a major blaze at Brown's TV on Center Street.

The dramatic scenes that often accompany work as a firefighter quickly solidified his mettle, the chief said.

"I feel like when I came here, I was really a young boy, out of high school, and I learned very quick that there was a real world out there," he said.

During his first fire, he was assigned to Station No. 3.

"It was around 7 a.m. that morning when we were toned out, and I remember when we pulled across the city and seeing the black smoke -- I knew this was the real deal."

Whaley said his lieutenant turned to him and told him to prepare himself for a major fire.

"I remember how nervous I was -- it was a blazing fire," Whaley said. "But I learned real quick that firefighting was serious business."

Whaley quickly learned to love the adventure of being toned out to fire calls, and also found a real reward in helping people, he said.

"I learned that there was a real thrill in helping people, and that's what I always tried to do -- is be as helpful as I could, and be there when people needed you.

His tenure as assistant chief in 2005 came after a series of promotions in the 1990s, beginning with the Emergency Medical Services Division, then to the fire suppression division, where he was promoted to a driver. Next came promotions to lieutenant, then assistant chief of training, and assistant chief of operations.

Later, Whaley would serve as assistant chief when the Paramount Theater burned, on Feb. 19, 2005.

After so many years with the department, Whaley has said his fingers were crossed that the city would eventually pick him to lead the department permanently.

"I do want to thank the city manager for having enough confidence to put me in this position," the newly appointed chief said. "I'm very honored and humbled at the same time. It's a dream come true for me."

The city manager said he believes Whaley will be the right man for the job.

"I am glad that he applied for the position," Huffman said. "He has served admirably in an interim capacity and I feel certain he will work hard to keep the fire department operating at an optimum level."