ELIZABETHTOWN —Over the past 25-plus years, Bryon Graham has gotten used to the heat of his job. But now he’s decided to let his life cool off a bit, moving into retirement from his job with the Elizabethtown Fire Department in January 2015.
Graham joined the fire department in November 1998 as a paid fireman and, in July 2008, was promoted to fire chief.
He said the one thing that he is most pleased about is completing the renovation of the fire department building.
“It took almost eight years. I picked it up when I came,” said Graham.
When asked what he will miss the most about the fire service, Graham said, “Just the camaraderie we have around here. It’s a family-type deal. You have to look after each other.”
Graham said probably the most enjoyable thing he has witnessed during his tenure is the completed restoration of the town’s 1928 Model A fire truck and the fact that it now has a permanent home in the new addition to the fire department building.
“The town fathers should be proud of it. They had enough foresight to preserve the 1928 Model A. It was the first truck they ever had,” said Graham.
When the building was renovated, a room was designed specifically to house the Model A truck and allow the public to see it.
Graham said the public doesn’t realize it, but the fire department is more than a building filled with fire trucks. He said, aside from providing basic fire protection to the community, the station also participates in the first-responders system and a first-responders unit is housed there which responds to EMS calls.
Graham said the station averages a call volume of about 700 to 1,000 calls per year. As of June 30, the station had received 522 calls — many of them medical related.
“It’s hard on the guys that stay here at night. They are here for fire protection and they are running more EMS calls,” said Graham.
He added that the system through which the fire station must submit its reports has undergone changes as well and is becoming more automated.
Graham said the fire department also provides services such as fire inspections, tours of the fire station, and provide educational programs to the schools, civic groups and churches.
He began his public service to the residents of Elizabethtown in April 1977 when he joined the Elizabethtown Rescue Squad, where he served three tours as chief over a 37-year period. He is still a member of the Elizabethtown Rescue Squad and serves on its board of directors. He has also served as vice-president of the Bladen County Firefighters Association and is currently vice-president of the Bladen County Chief’s Association. He also serves on the Bladen Community College Advisory Board for Continuing Education and has served on the Bladen County EMS Advisory Board.
Graham is a native of Bladen County, growing up in the Lake Creek community on his family’s farm. He is the son of Ennis and Merle Graham, who moved in 1960 to Clinton — and Byron Graham later graduated from Clinton High School. He returned to Bladen County in 1967, where he met and married his wife Barbara McLaney Graham.
He was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1968, where he trained as a dental lab tech/medic. After being discharged from the Army he returned to Elizabethtown in May 1971 and spoke with Dr. William (Bill) Keith about a position as a lab technician in his dental practice. Keith advised Graham to go to college and earn a degree and he would set up a lab. Graham graduated from Durham Technical Institute in 1973 and, when he returned to Bladen County, Keith kept his word and set up Bladen Dental Studio. Graham purchased the business in 1975 and owned and operated the studio until he joined the Elizabethtown Fire Department in 1998.
He has three daughters: Toni Cross, Amber Sholar, Kelly Johnson; and nine grandchildren.