Chief Bryan Perry of the Buxton Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) was awarded the Fire Chief of the Year award by the North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs in a recent ceremony in Concord, N.C.
The statewide award follows his January recognition as the 2019 Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year Award from the Eastern North Carolina Firefighter’s Association.
The award was a surprise for Chief Perry, who was nominated for the honor without his knowledge, and who continually credits his fellow firefighters for the distinction. “The guys snuck it in on me – I had no idea – but the credit goes to the crew,” said Chief Perry. “This whole department is all about the crew… Everybody pitches in and works hard. I was going to retire 20 years go, and I told them ‘the only way I can hang on is if you all step in.’ And they did.”
“It’s all about how this department works together – it’s not about the Fire Chief,” he added.
The Buxton VFD is one of the oldest fire departments on Hatteras Island, (following behind the Hatteras Village VFD), and was established in 1964 after a deadly incident in Buxton close to the present-day Sandbar & Grille.
As Chief Perry recalls, a fire in the area resulted in the death of a child, and although the Hatteras VFD bravely responded to the incident, community members in Buxton realized they needed a fire department that was closer to home.
“The guys in Buxton said ‘we have to do something,’” said Chief Perry. “The Hatteras VFD worked really hard, but Hatteras was too far away to get here in a timely manner. We needed to offer help here, too.”
Since being established nearly 60 years ago, the Buxton VFD has had a total of three Fire Chiefs until very recently: Calvin Burrus, Johnny Conner, and Chief Bryan Perry, who took over for his mentor and guide, Johnny Conner, in 1981. The new Fire Chief for Buxton, Carroll Midgett, was recently elected and is taking over for Chief Perry, who remains a member of the VFD.
“Johnny Conner was my mentor, and together we went to many different schools, classes, and we networked with other [professionals],” said Chief Perry. “He helped me to understand the steps that it took to do a good job. Johnny spent 18.5 years as Fire Chief, and he quit the night that I agreed to run against him for [the position of] Chief… and I only agreed to run so that he could retire.”
In fact, it was Johnny Conner’s son, (who is also named Johnny and is and a current Buxton VFD member), who wrote the letter that eventually resulted in Chief Perry’s award for Fire Chief of the Year for 2019.
“Someone said ‘whoever wrote that letter – you have to pat him on the back,'” said Chief Perry. “It had stuff in there that he must have gotten from his daddy – stuff that happened many years ago, and that I didn’t even remember.”
However, in addition to the glowing letter, everyone in the local community agrees that the honor is more than well deserved.
While Chief Perry remains modest, and attests that it’s the Buxton VFD crew members that deserve the recognition, everyone else in the community who knows Bryan Perry readily shines the spotlight back on the Fire Chief himself.
“I’ve known Bryan for over 30 years, and he’s as good they come,” said Dare County Manager Bobby Outten, who worked with Chief Perry when he served with the Cape Hatteras Water Association, well before the county provided water to the island. “Hatteras Island was always special to him. He is devoted to it, and he does everything to make it better. On top of that, he’s a really good guy – Always willing to tell it straight, and always wanting to do the job right… and I don’t know how you can get any better than that.”
“Bryan Perry sets the standard of excellence by which volunteer departments are measured on this island, as well as [throughout] all of Dare County,” said Dare County Commissioner for Hatteras Island, Danny Couch. “With all due kudos to the folks who set up the Hatteras VFD, it was Bryan who was able to take that initial sense of accomplishment, and take it to a level of unprecedented success.”
“…Anything we have in terms of good insurance ratings, credibility, and respect from professional fire organizations, (including Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Duck, and the incorporated municipalities), they will all tell you – it’s Bryan Perry that set that standard,” added Couch. “He raised the bar for impeccable fire service.”
“Chief Perry is an outstanding leader,” stated Dare County Board of Commissioners’ Chairman Bob Woodard. “His lifelong commitment and dedication to the safety of the residents and visitors on Hatteras Island has made him more than deserving of this award. A special appreciation must also be extended to Bryan’s family for their continued and unwavering support of his more than 40 years of service. The Board of Commissioners is honored and proud that he and his family are citizens of Dare County.”
These sentiments are echoed among those who work alongside Chief Perry on a daily basis, as well.
“Bryan Perry is an example for all of us at the station,” said Buxton VFD Deputy Chief Jeffrey Del Monte. “He sets the standard for all of us at the Buxton Volunteer Fire Department, and he is the epitome of teamwork. He deserves this honor, and we are proud of our Chief, and what he does for our community every day.”
Under Chief Perry’s roughly 40-year tenure, the Buxton VFD has erected a new fire station, has accumulated two dozen members or so for 2020, and has helped out with thousands of immediate calls as well as long-term storm recovery assistance, which includes the Hurricane Dorian response in 2019.
But Chief Perry says that despite his administrative accomplishments, the best part of his job remains the ability to make a huge difference in a potentially devastating scenario.
“It’s all about the fundamentals of firefighting,” said Chief Perry. “It’s about putting the ‘wet stuff’ on the ‘red stuff,’ and getting into a house to get the job done… and it’s a messy job.”
“There’s a point in time that it’s a real call, and not an alarm,” he added. “And when you get that call, you know you are about to go to help somebody. It was never about the sirens and the red lights – A fire can be one of the most devastating things that can happen [to a person], and it doesn’t leave any room for error. You have to help someone – that’s part of the job.”
“And the ability to help people in their worst time in need – that’s the best.”
Chief Perry also notes that the Buxton VFD always has smoke detectors on hand for visitors and residents who do not have a working one in their home, and he also highlights the continual need for volunteers.
The Buxton VFD currently has volunteers who range from 17-year-old recruits to firefighters in their late 60s, and Chief Perry affirms that newcomers are always welcome.
“There’s a place for anybody and everybody,” said Chief Perry. “We need all kinds of help, all of the time.”
And despite being delighted by the support received by fellow stations across the state, as well as from his firefighting colleagues, Chief Perry affirms that his lone award is actually a group effort.
“I got the cool helmet and the plaque, but this is really for the crew and our department,” said Chief Perry. “This is for all the guys and gals who step up every day, and make this work worth it.”