Firefighters‚ community‚ and family said‚ ‘See you later.’ to Gary Kistler‚ who died of injuries suffered in the line of duty. Any time Gary left the station‚ he said‚ ‘See you later – keep those trucks moving – safely.’
A native of Spokane‚ Washington‚ Gary came to Mississippi in 1966. He became an adopted southerner in 1969‚ when he married Doris Blackwell. They became the proud parents of four and later the proud grandparents of eight. Gary retired from active duty after 26 years‚ as a chief petty officer in the Navy Seabees.
A 30-year veteran firefighter‚ Gary served both as volunteer fire chief and paid employee of the Harrison County Fire Services. He was an elected officer in multiple organizations and associations throughout Mississippi. Gary received many awards‚ including ‘Fireman of the Year‚’ ‘Recognition of Service – Hurricane Katrina‚’ and ‘Fire Chief of the Year.’
Gary was honored with the dedication of the new Saucier Volunteer Fire Department and the Life Safety Educator Award‚ which is given to an individual who promotes fire safety. Gary dedicated much of his life to providing public fire safety education to children‚ in hopes of preventing harm to any child. He made major strides to bring fire and life safety education services to all communities in Mississippi. His motto was‚ ‘Teach them‚ save some.’
Gary worked very hard to establish new fire department locations in his community and to insure that volunteer firefighters were trained in providing fire protection services. He stressed to the volunteers the importance of arriving alive‚ both to and from emergency incidents. He was involved with the PTA‚ Boy Scouts of America‚ and Saucier Methodist Church.
Gary was dedicated to his family. After he died‚ his grandchildren wrote: ‘Papa Kistler is Our Hero! Papa has a helping hand to all he meets. We want to be like him – caring‚ helpful‚ and strong.’
Gary’s daughter Mareanda Weems served as the Saucier fire chief at the time of her father’s death. She attributes being a firefighter to her father‚ whose early influence and encouragement gave her the foundation and training she needed to eventually serve as chief.
Gary’s son‚ Wayne Jr.‚ remembered his father as having that big smile‚ a big hug‚ and a firm handshake that always made you feel good. ‘Dad always told us kids that God is first and to keep yourself healthy so you can help others.’
I was very proud to have been called his wife. I will always remember returning from late night fire calls‚ just the two of us alone in the fire truck. It was like we were always on our first date. Gary‚ see ya later! The trucks are still moving – safely.