Anthony Bernal had barely settled in as Gorham-Fayette Fire Department’s new chief when the village was rocked by an early Sunday morning apartment fire.
Numerous outside crews were called in to help but the structure had been gutted by flames before Bernal and his department were even notified of the blaze. His military training, however, kept him cool and collected.
“Just another day at the office,” Bernal said. “I don’t get too worked up much about anything.”
The former U.S. Army military police officer was appointed Fayette’s fire chief by Gorham Township trustees on July 22, replacing Robert Stillion Jr., who resigned. Bernal, 44, left a position as a lieutenant with the Swanton Fire Department to accept the position. It’s a goal he sought since his first duty began in 2005 with the Apple Creek Fire Department in Wayne County.
“I’m big in public service, and taking care of the public, giving back to the people of the community,” he said.
Now he leads a group of 19 part-time and volunteer firefighters and oversees two engines, water, brush, and command trucks, and two rescue vehicles.
Prior to retiring from the Army as a staff sergeant after more than 20 years of service, Bernal earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Fire Science and joined the Apple Creek department. He said his military training assists with his leadership position, but he also credits advice from local fire chiefs.
“Ever since I’ve been in the fire service in Fulton County they’ve helped me,” Bernal said. “The fire service is like a brotherhood. If you reach out for help they’ll give it to you.”
He has already experienced major fires, and was the incident commander when a train derailed June 6 in Swanton. What Bernal is working toward now is developing the same connection he felt among the crew at his former firehouse.
“It’s getting everybody to work together. You’ve got to build that family atmosphere. Once you build it, it’s good to go,” he said.
Gorham Township Trustee William McKinney said Bernal was chosen from three candidates for chief. “We felt he was the best man. His credentials were what we wanted,” he said.
Bernal said he has a great support team. “We’re going to work together as a team and make that the best department around,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.