Lifelong Beachsider’s rise to fire chief had air of inevitability

It could be said that Gavin Brown was born to be a firefighter – and after a life devoted to securing the safety of others, he will now serve as fire chief of the Melbourne Beach Volunteer Fire Department.

Born and raised in Melbourne Beach, Brown attended Gemini Elementary School, was part of Melbourne Beach’s Boy Scout Troop 330 (where he earned the rank of Eagle Scout), and on his 18th birthday joined the Melbourne Beach Volunteer Fire Department (MBVFD).

“So, it goes without saying that this community is super important to me, and I am honored to be able to serve in this capacity and give something back,” Brown said.

Although a career in fire service was his dream, serving as a volunteer long term and becoming fire chief of a volunteer department was never part of his original plan.

From the time he was a young, Brown, 31, always knew he wanted to be a firefighter.

“All of my toys and books had to be fire-related and visits to the fire station were a regular occurrence as my mother was a volunteer with Harbor City Ambulance Squad, and then later a volunteer firefighter with Brevard County Fire Rescue and Melbourne Beach Volunteer Fire Department,” Brown said. “I grew up around the station helping out with events and learning what I could. It was never really a question for me what I wanted to do with my life; I pretty much always knew that this was what I was meant for.”

He began fire school while still in high school, getting all his certifications and classes out of the way, and then joining the MBVFD as a volunteer. But he was seeking a paid position with a local fire department and had begun to apply for positions when the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened. Emergency Medical Staff (EMS) were needed to help with the cleanup efforts, so Brown signed up, and worked in Louisiana providing remote EMS on the beaches and islands in the gulf.

He returned home after the cleanup efforts and started working for a local ambulance service. Shortly after that, he was offered a position with a technical rescue/safety contractor for the oil and industrial field and remained with the company for several years, acting in multiple roles including as a safety consultant, remote EMT, and leading technical rescue and hazmat monitoring teams in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and on oil rigs and drill ships in the Gulf of Mexico.

“During this entire time, I remained active as a volunteer with the MBVFD during my weeks off,” Brown said. “I also continued to take classes and expand my knowledge, as well as slowly progress through the ranks to the position of lieutenant and then captain.”

Eventually, he said, the lifestyle of being away from home so frequently lost its appeal and he decided to come back to Brevard and pursue a career in fire service, which was always his true passion.

When a position opened up with the Town of Melbourne Beach as the fire station manager, he took it – thinking it would just be a short-term position. He worked closely with Chief Dave Micka and was eventually promoted to the rank of deputy chief.

“I took every opportunity I could to learn from his experience,” Brown said. “During our time working together we were able to lower our department’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) score to a Class 3 rating, won a large grant to purchase all-new self-contained breathing apparatuses and worked with our not-for-profit Firefighters Association to bring bleeding control kits and ‘Stop the Bleed’ training to every classroom and place of worship in the Town of Melbourne Beach.”

As he takes on the new role, his plans for the new year include a resurface of fire department garage floors to provide for better traction and improved firefighter safety in the station; and a continued partnership with surrounding agencies that will enable the purchase of a new extractor fire gear washing machine that will be shared and help reduce the risk of firefighter cancer.

“My overall goal, however, is to keep working to improve our community’s fire department so that we can continue to provide our citizens with the best level of service possible,” Brown said.

And as with any position of leadership, there is always plenty of paperwork, but Brown says he definitely doesn’t stay deskbound, and can usually be found with members of his team responding to emergency calls, mopping floors, cleaning the trucks, and performing services out in the community and at local schools.

“I have always been a working chief, and I personally believe that there is no task that I am above,” he said.

As for funding, Brown says the town has been very receptive and willing to work with him to find creative solutions. The department recently received approval to hire a few contractors to help with maintenance and administrative needs, which he said will greatly help reduce some of the burden on the department’s volunteers.

At the next town meeting scheduled for Dec. 4, the commission was to revisit a proposed stipend plan to help incentivize current volunteers and attract new ones.

“I never originally planned to be the chief of the Fire Department, but I am honored to have been given this opportunity. I truly view this department as my home and all of the members as my family,” Brown said. “I can tell you that after working all over, the Town of Melbourne Beach really is one of the best places to live and work. I love our small-town community, and I am really happy to be a part of making it a great and safe place to live.”

After 34 years of service to the MBVFD, 30 as fire chief, Micka said he feels confident passing the torch to Brown.

“The fire service has undergone major changes since I started, with far more administrative duties, requirements and regulations to have to comply with as the chief,” Micka said. “That trend along with the cost of vehicles and equipment, which meets these new ‘predominantly safety improvement’ requirements, continues to grow at an ever-increasing rate every year. I have come to the realization that it is time for me to step back, to let others run with it, and for me to spend more time with my family and enjoying life.”

Micka originally joined the department for “stress relief” from his regular job as an engineering manager and then safety manager at the Cape.

“That didn’t exactly work as planned,” he said.

In the mid-1990s after having to put a department volunteer in the water – without any rescue training or equipment – to try and save an intoxicated individual who decided to jump off the end of the pier one evening in an attempt to swim to Melbourne, Micka realized he had work to do and began to develop the well-trained and -equipped water rescue program that exists today.

But while he may be stepping down, he is not stepping out, and plans to take on a new role as deputy chief in charge of safety and compliance.

As a retired safety manager with an extensive technical background, he said he will continue to bring needed skills to the department, and help make the transition easier for the new chief.

“The incoming chief wanted to be a firefighter from childhood. He joined the department while still in high school, signing up on his 18th birthday. Since joining the department, he has shown a steady growth in skills and leadership moving up through the ranks,” Micka said. “He is always studying new techniques or going to classes to bring new and better ways to do business back to the department. Every task he takes on, he does so with great enthusiasm and I expect his new role as chief of the department will be no different.”

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