Fire Chief Harryman
Ask any little boy what he wants to be when he grows up and chances are you will hear, “fire chief.”
Though Gil Harryman did not grow up wanting to be a fireman, he was definitely familiar with the profession, having several relatives who were firefighters. He was also exposed to firefighters at his parents’ moving company where many worked during off-duty hours. “I found the lifestyle challenging and adventurous,” he said.
So at the tender age of 20, Gil Harryman became a full-time firefighter in Edmond while pursuing a degree in Municipal Fire Protection from Oklahoma State University and taking business management courses at UCO. That was 29 years ago and he loves his job as much today as he did the day he started.
“I enjoy helping people when they desperately need help,” Harryman said. “A firefighter must be at his/her best when others are experiencing their worst.”
Since joining the Edmond Fire Department, Harryman has held just about every position available, starting as a firefighter and continuing with fire apparatus driver, lieutenant, captain, interim chief training officer, battalion chief, assistant fire chief and then the top — fire chief.
As Edmond’s fire chief since 2001, Harryman oversees four divisions — Administration, Prevention, Suppression and Training, as well as 116 employees. He maintains an “open door” policy so that he is always available to anyone needing his attention. He was also very involved with the architectural design of the new Cross Timbers Fire Training Center and fire station, located at I-35 and Covel Road.
“The architect told me they weren’t accustomed to the fire chief being so involved in the design and building,” Harryman said. But he believes their training center is exceptional because of blending the best from architects and firefighter personnel.
The Edmond Fire Department also has been involved in disasters or catastrophes outside the city. In 1995, two units arrived at the Murrah bombing site in Oklahoma City within 20 minutes. Harryman was assistant fire chief at that time but because the fire chief was out of town, he was in charge. The units did a top-to-bottom search of the Journal Record Building.
During the May 1999 tornadoes, Edmond sent crews to Moore and to Midwest City. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, one member represented the Edmond Fire Department in New York City as a chaplain, helping with the emotional stress. More recently, a team of six was sent to Port Arthur, Texas, for hurricane relief, and others were in New Orleans the day after the levees broke, rescuing more than 400 people.
Though firefighters often place themselves in harm’s way, they never expect to lose one of their own. Each Christmas, the Edmond Department presents a Service Award to a member in recognition of outstanding service. The award honors fallen firefighter Steve Begley, who lost his life in the line of duty at Lake Keystone in 1989.
“That’s the hardest part of being a firefighter,” Harryman said
Away from his job, Gil Harryman and wife, Rhonda, enjoy working with children. They have been involved with Boy’s Ranch in Edmond for the 28 years they have been married. Gil was already working with the teens when he met Rhonda, and she was working with the children at the Oklahoma Baptist Home in Oklahoma City. He said they want to be positive role models to the kids, tutoring some of them but also having fun with games and trips.
The Harrymans also have eight godchildren. Summers are a special time of enjoying their godchildren on vacations and playing Olympic-style games. Gil still gloats over his team winning last year. Rhonda says he had an edge since the activity was to boil water out in the wilderness. Who better than a fire chief to build a fire?
Besides the fun they share with the kids, the Harrymans make a point of sharing their faith. They respect the fact that parents have given them a tremendous responsibility as godparents to their children and work at building relationships with the kids. Gil and Rhonda are involved with many programs at their church, Henderson Hills Baptist Church, including volunteering at Ministries of Jesus medical/counseling center and Special Ministries, where they help children with developmental disabilities. This seems like home to them since Rhonda taught special education in the Edmond Public Schools and at UCO for 29 years. For 16 of those years, Gil and Rhonda coached Special Olympic teams.
Along with other various ministries in their church, the couple does financial counseling with families who need help with money management. Though both are certified through Christian Financial Concepts, they are quick to say that this is a “ministry,” not a job. Nor do they do this on a full-time basis. They counsel people in their church or by referral on Sunday mornings.
Somewhere in the midst of work, community service and ministry, the Harrymans find time for their hobbies — ballroom dancing, collecting and watching classic movies, sailing, backpacking, rappelling and more.
Both Gil and Rhonda desire to be positive reflections of their Christian faith and to serve their community well. “We live, work in and serve this community because we love it,” he said. “Edmond is home to us. The people of Edmond are worthy of having excellent service and that’s what we try to give them.”