The AllOnGeorgia First Responder Spotlight Series features law enforcement, firefighters, EMS and other emergency personnel who make it their business to serve our communities, often in ways we never see, each and every day.
Ronnie Stephens, senior firefighter with the Lyerly Fire Department, is our latest feature in the First Responder Spotlight Series, brought to you by Chattooga County Farm Bureau Insurance. Stephens has over five decades of firefighting experience.
In addition to serving the community as a firefighter, Stephens also served his country in the U.S. Army from 1968-1970. He attended basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, advanced training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He was later assigned to Camp Kaiser Korea, 7th Infantry Division- A Troop 2/10 Cavalry.
How/when did your career as a firefighter begin?
Not long after getting out of the Army, I drove up on a large fire at Hurley’s Supermarket, site of present day Mason’s Funeral Home, I was watching the fire when I was approached by W. H, Smith with the Lyerly Fire Department, who was there as mutual aid. At the time there were only four fire departments in the county. Trion, Summerville, Menlo, and Lyerly. I wound up on the roof of an adjoining building. It was exciting, so as the old saying goes, the rest is history.
In 1984 I moved to Anderson County, South Carolina to join my wife, who had been transferred there for her job. I then joined ACFD Station 7 as a firefighter at Powdersville. (One of 27 stations in ACFD). A few years later I was elected as Chief of Powdersville Station 7. I served as Chief for 14 years. During that time I became a member of the ACDF Hazardous Materials Team. I served on that team for 16 years, while still a member of Station 7, for a total of 23 years with ACFD.
We moved back to Chattooga County in 2007 where I rejoined Lyerly FD. I was Chief at Lyerly two different times.
What is the best thing about the communities you have served?
The best thing about the communities I have served with are the people who you have been able to help on their worst day.
How has firefighting changed throughout your career?
Firefighting has come a long way since I started in 1970. We have much better equipment and training now. Personal protective equipment is much safer now, as are the modern fire engines are much safer and powerful.
What is the hardest thing about being in public service?
Being away from your family and friends when you’re out of town, getting training in another city or state. I was fortunate to be able to go to many places for classes that were not offered locally. Also we have many more dangerous chemicals now, that were not around when I started.
How do you deal with the stress of your job?
When I was younger, I did a lot of repelling and caving to relax on my days off. Now I just hang out with friends and family.
What was your most interesting repel?
The most interesting repel was an open air pit in Jackson County, Alabama. National Geographic had a photographer there shooting a man on a rope. My gang and I placed our rope in a different spot, and went on down. (162 foot deep pit). As we each went passed the photographer, he took our photos on the way down, and back up. I still have a copy of that issue (Jan. 1998). The scariest pit was 270 feet one is South Pittsburg, TN.
What has been the biggest sacrifice for your family (due to your job)?
The hours we keep sometimes are hard on family.
Outside of work what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy being with my grandchildren, and friends. I also love to travel. I think I have spent most of my adult life on the road sometimes. I also work with Susan Locklear on projects in downtown Summerville, she keeps me busy.