Gamewell Fire Chief Sam Smith — servant, leader, firefighter, teacher, family man — spent 40 years in the fire service working in both paid and unpaid positions and teaching fire science while continuing to love his family and give back to his church and his community.
“Smith was a dedicated servant and left a legacy of service to many men and women who now serve in the fire service — a true full circle of service” said Caldwell County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Mike LaBrose.
Smith's fire service career began at Valmead Fire Department more than 40 years ago when he became a volunteer firefighter. In 1983, he joined Lenoir Fire Department and in 1987, he began working with Gamewell Fire Department as a volunteer.
"I had the privilege to work with Sam at Lenoir Fire Department for several years. Sam was always dedicated to the fire service and had a heart for the people in this county,” said Caldwell County Commissioner Robbie Wilkie.
During his career with Lenoir, Smith served as Firefighter II, 2nd Lieutenant, Lieutenant, and Captain. He served as the Public Information Officer for the Fire Department, as Fire Suppression Captain, and as Fire Life & Safety Education Captain.
“Smith taught at many departments and was always studying and trying to keep the history and traditions of the fire service,” said Gamewell Assistant Fire Chief Keith Owens.
One week after retiring from Lenoir Fire Department, Smith began a second career with Caldwell County Schools as teacher of the Fire Science Academy at Hibriten High School, a program he was instrumental in developing.
In his teacher biography for the Hibriten website, Smith wrote, “I enjoy teaching and molding tomorrow's future firefighters. We have a great cadet corps of both male and female students who are committed to public service as both career and volunteer servants.”
David Colwell, Hibriten High School Principal (Ret.) knew Smith was the right fit for the Fire Science Academy.
“When I recruited Sam Smith to lead the implementation of the Caldwell County Schools Fire Academy at Hibriten High School ten years ago, I felt he would be a great classroom teacher. In a very short time, he exceeded my expectations. Sam was an exceptional teacher. He connected with his students. He respected them. And they respected him,” said Colwell.
Smith tasked his students with more than learning fire science. He also taught them about service to their community. Fire Science students often cleaned up the school’s campus after events and served as honor guard at home football games.
Smith shared his passion for fire science with his students. During his time at Hibriten, he had three students place in the top five in the North Carolina SkillsUSA firefighting competition.
“Sam was a true teacher in the purest form, he loved passing on his passion to others who were also interested. Teaching is an Art and Sam was an artist!” said Derek Reeves, Hibriten High School Athletic Director.
While serving the Lenoir Fire Department and into his career with Caldwell County Schools, Smith was an active member of the Gamewell Fire Department. At Gamewell he served as a firefighter, officer, interim chief, and chief.
“From his career at Lenoir Fire Department, to establishing the Firefighter Academy at Hibriten High School, to his volunteer service at Gamewell Fire Department and most recently accepting the Chief's position at Gamewell Fire Department, Sam was always willing to step up and lead. Sam was a true public servant. He will definitely be missed," said Gamewell Fire Department Board of Directors President Rusty Dellinger.
As Interim Chief and Chief, Smith looked for ways to prepare the Gamewell Fire Department for the future.
“When he became Interim Chief, we talked many times about how to better our department. During his short time as Chief, he made many changes to help us grow in the future,” said Gamewell Fire Department Board Member Brian Whittington.
Smith’s legacy goes far beyond fire service. Smith’s family and his church were the most valuable pieces of his life.
“His entire life was dedicated to his family, church, and community,” said Dellinger.
Smith’s friend, colleague, and fellow church member, Lenoir Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Kenny Nelson said, “Sam was willing to go without to ensure others' needs were met. He was a special person to our church and meant so much to so many. It is difficult to put into words how much he will be missed.”
Smith made an immense impact on countless lives, and he will be missed by many.
“He was a proud husband, father, and grandfather. He taught all of us about duty and sacrifice. About integrity. And he taught us about life. Sam valued every one of his many relationships with people. Sam Smith is an authentic American hero. And I am proud and honored to call Sam my friend forever,” said Colwell.