On June 21, 2018 the family and friends of Robert E. “Bob” Byer said their final farewells as he was laid to rest. More than just family and friends though, Mr. Byer was a servant to his community, to the citizens of Meigs County.
His accomplishments stand as a testimony of a life lived to a standard of continually moving forward, not only in his career, but in service to Meigs County as well. From villages up to his service in the United States Army, he served with dignity and a leadership so uncommon today. Mr. Byer involved people. He brought them along with plans and projects. He was not interested in credit or “glory” but in the continued betterment of the community.
Mr. Byer served in many capacities including as a firefighter and fire chief in Middleport, EMS, director of Meigs EMS for 18 years and Meigs County Emergency Management Director for 25 years. Additionally, even after retirement he served on the Meigs County Local Emergency Planning Committee as chairperson and single handedly ran the Meigs County Firefighter’s Association. Mr. Byer saw the Firefighter’s Association through some tough years and because of that, it stands strong today. He also served as president of the Ohio Emergency Medical Association.
His work, his steady continual work to offer training opportunities, to plan and prepare for disasters in the county along with his wherewithal to navigate the county toward the present day centralized dispatch system for EMS and fire is something unparalleled in Meigs County. It was due to his unwavering dedication that the facility he worked so hard for was named the Robert E. Byer Emergency Operations Center. In 2015, the Hocking Valley Regional Fire School also recognized his efforts naming him Honorary Dean.
Just as it was stated at his funeral service, Mr. Byer cared deeply for his “family, friends and the citizens of Meigs County.” How rare is it to find a humble servant?
Following the Ingels Carpet fire in Middleport, I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Byer. He was surveying the damage along with other members of the Middleport Fire Department. Clean up was still underway and firefighters were addressing several concerns. Two things have stayed with me from that conversation.
One, as he recalled another Middleport fire at the Empire Furniture Store in 1984, it does not matter how old a firefighter is or how long ago such a devastating fire was, they remember it. It was clear that as we talked he could remember that day and the heat from those flames. That fire would prove fatal claiming the life of Middleport firefighter James Daniels. As Mr. Byer spoke, I was biting my inside lip. Not because I wanted to speak but because I was trying my best to not tear up. I’ve been around firefighters, fires including fatal fires, crash scenes and other things people like to read about in the news but wouldn’t want to carry the sights, smells and other memories home with them. Unless you have been in those situations, I’m not sure I can truly explain it. Though my admiration for first responders runs deep, that feeling went to a completely different level with firefighters that day as Mr. Byer taught me something I didn’t even know I needed to learn. I think he did that with a lot of people. The best teachers and leaders teach you when you aren’t expecting or looking for a lesson or to be led. They don’t coach from the sidelines or lead from far out in front, they walk along with you and guide you as you grow.
Two, as we stood there, the firefighters were continue their work. He was watching while he was talking to me and he was taking it all in. He waited until they moved away a bit and were engaged in their work and there was not a doubt of his pride in the work accomplished by the firefighters. Mr. Byer was beaming, honestly, as he stated how well they kept the fire from spreading further and that no one died or was seriously injured. When you can stand back and see that a new generation has taken the reigns, it means you did something right. There is a comfort in it. I could see that in his eyes. He didn’t have to say it.
It is hard to measure exactly how great the contribution of one person can be. It is hard to measure the depth of Mr. Byer’s contribution to Meigs County. You can pick up the phone in an emergency and dial 911 because one man chose to work and weave behind the scenes at times to make it possible. How many lives have been saved because of the system we have now? I wonder. I also wonder what will we do without a leader like Mr. Byer.
One person can make a difference. One person that chooses not to seek the accolades, but willing to do with hard work can accomplish untold good for their family, friends and community. The best tribute, the best accolade anyone like Mr. Byer can receive is to have a new generation step up, lead others just as he did and serve with a heart like he did. Who will lead now? Who will serve this community?
Throughout the county the firefighters that train and work to be ready for that fire, car crash, or other devastating event are all volunteer. Every department throughout the county needs new recruits to continue the tradition and be ready to answer the call when the tones sound. If you want to serve, I suggest checking with your local department. If you can not serve as a firefighter, consider helping with your local auxiliary.
Mr. Byer proved one thing clearly, if you want a better community, do it. It will be hard work, but one person can bring others along and then one becomes a few and then a group and the next thing you know, change happens. Be the change you want to see in your community and in doing so you remember and honor this servant of Meigs County, Mr. Byer.