Friends honor retiring fire chief

By Corene Brisendine

Friends, family, coworkers, city and state officials packed a room at the Manhattan Fire Department Headquarters to wish Chief Jerry Snyder a happy retirement.

“You can judge the character of a person by the number of people who show up at their retirement,” Ronnie Grice, assistant vice president of the Division of Public Safety at Kansas State University, told Snyder. “You must have touched a lot of people,” he added, “because this room is full.”

Grice, along with several other public officials and coworkers, presented Snyder with plaques, pictures and awards for his dedication, compassion and loyalty to not only the fire department, but also to the community.

Brad Schoen, director of the Riley County Police Department, said Snyder was the type of person who didn’t seek public attention for the things he did to help the community. He said Snyder focused on what was important to the community and making sure those things were done during his 36 years with the fire department.

“It’s not about Jerry to Jerry,” he said. “It’s about seeing the right thing done. This is that kind of guy.”

Snyder refused to take the credit for his dedication to the job and the community, and instead thanked his wife, Belinda. He said when the tornado hit Manhattan, they were sitting at the Kansas City airport waiting to catch a flight to attend a wedding. Instead, the Snyders headed back to Manhattan and spent a week at Bramlage Coliseum “giving back to the community.”

Chief Eric Ward, Blue Township Fire and Rescue, said when Snyder was in charge of hosting the state fire department convention in Manhattan, Ward’s 6-year-old son wanted to see the equipment on display. But his wife and son arrived too late.  Snyder took time out of his busy schedule for the boy, who Snyder did not know, and gave him several items including an MFD mug and T-shirt . 

“Life is not about the stuff,” Schoen said. “It’s about the people. I think that’s something Jerry gets, not only on a personal level, but on a professional level.”

Snyder challenged the coworkers he leaves behind with one question, “How can I be useful?” He said he reflected on that question while attempting to draft a retirement speech.

“I hope that I was useful and made a difference in the community and in the fire department,” Snyder said with tears welling up in his eyes.

Snyder joined the Manhattan Fire Department Jan. 3, 1977, with nine others, and is the last of those to retire. He was promoted to driver in 1979, and to fire lieutenant in 1985. He became a battalion chief in 1999, and was named assistant director in 2001. He has been chief since 2005. In 2010, to save the department and the city money, he retired for a mandatory 30 days before returning to take back the reins as fire chief until Friday, when he officially retired.

“We thank you for your career, and your comeback career,” said city manager Ron Fehr. “We thank your family for loaning you to us—a lot.”

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