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Retired fire chief mourned; called mentor, inspiration
Retired Martinsville fire chief Jerry Brock died Tuesday, local fire and EMS officials said. (Bulletin file photo)
Thursday, November 7, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Retired Martinsville Fire Chief Jerry Brock died Tuesday, but his legacy of community service will continue in Martinsville.
Brock was found lying on asphalt at his mother’s home on Myrtle Road around dark Tuesday, according to Kris Shrader, deputy fire chief with Martinsville Fire & EMS.
A ladder, leaf blower and other tools were nearby, but officials were not sure whether there had been an accident or a medical emergency, Shrader said Wednesday.
Brock was taken to Memorial Hospital in Martinsville and airlifted to Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where he died Tuesday night, Shrader said.
Brock’s body was taken to the medical examiner’s office for determination of what happened.
“It’s a tragic accident at this point,” Shrader said, adding that today officials hope to learn the cause of Brock’s death.
Brock, 65, began his association with the Martinsville Fire Department by spending five years as a volunteer firefighter before he was hired as a career firefighter on Jan. 1, 1975.
Working his way up in the ranks, Brock was named lieutenant in 1987; assistant chief in 1988; and fire chief in 1996. He assumed that office in January 1997 and retired in 2006.
While he was assistant chief, Brock worked with a city/county partnership and the Henry County Department of Public Safety to expand the role of the fire department in the community by providing rescue service to residents, according to previous reports.
Brock’s vision of a first responder program eventually was implemented, and the program was expanded several years later with the addition of ambulance service.
He also was instrumental in forming the Honor Guard, according to current Fire Chief Kenneth Draper. He spoke Wednesday during a telephone interview from Norfolk where Draper, Fire Marshal and Building Official Ted Anderson and others were attending a symposium.
Brock contacted the Honor Guard in Washington, D.C., and “we went up and did training with them and then formed our own” unit in Martinsville, Draper said.
He added that he knew Brock for many years.
“When I came to work in 1983, I went on Jerry’s shift,” Draper recalled. At that time, firefighters did not run medical calls. Instead, they took turns cooking, and he and Brock were cooking partners, Draper said.
Brock “was my mentor. He was the one that told me if we wanted to get anywhere” in terms of building a career in firefighting, “we needed to go back to school,” Draper said.
The two men went back to school together and later earned degrees from Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C., according to Draper and previous reports.
“When we’d get off of work, we would go and spend two days in Greensboro” attending classes, Draper said. Brock “was instrumental in me” pursuing the training.
The two also inspired each other when needed, he said.
“When one of us wanted to quit, the other would push” him to continue with the schooling, Draper said.
When Draper was appointed chief, Brock “not only called and congratulated me, but he also sent me a card and a letter,” Draper said.
“I’m still in shock” at Brock’s death, he said. “I’ve been thinking about it all day.”
“I really enjoyed working with him. I considered him a friend. He loved this community. He loved his church and his family, and he loved the fire department,” Draper said.
The department’s chaplain is aware of the situation and is ready to talk to or help any employees if needed, according to Draper.
Many of those who work in the fire/EMS department were hired by Brock, Draper said. “And a lot of them there that he hired are upset, but the department as a whole is doing OK.”
Former Martinsville City Manager Clarence Monday succeeded Brock as fire chief when Brock retired. Monday now is Amherst County administrator.
Brock, Monday said, was “well known all over the state for his service with the Martinsville Fire Department. He loved the department, the profession and his community. He will be missed, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the Brock family.”
Anderson said Brock hired him, and the two became and remained friends.
“I just saw Jerry the other week behind City Hall. He was picking on me about something,” Anderson said. Brock “loved picking on people” in a good-natured way.
Anderson, who also worked on the same shift as Brock, recalled that Brock earned his respect when he told Anderson that he did not get a job for which he had applied.
“He encouraged me to reapply, and I did,” Anderson said. “He absolutely will be missed.”