Tennant honored with Order of Long Leaf Pine

Published 9:39 pm Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Columbus Fire Chief Geoff Tennant encountered a few surprises on November 7, the biggest being presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor in North Carolina.

Tennant received the award, presented by Polk County Magistrate Lionel Gilbert on behalf of North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue, at a surprise retirement party held at Tryon Estates.

The retirement party was filled with local emergency service agencies, law enforcement officers and others, including Tennants former students. The event was catered by Moutain View BBQ, whose owner, Shane Blackwell, is also a member of the Columbus Fire Department.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Tennant is retiring as fire chief at the end of this year after holding the position since 1982. He has served as firefighter for 35 years and retired as an educator after 30 years of service. Tennant is currently the chair of the Polk County School Board.

Tennant joined the Columbus Fire Department in the mid-1970s. Then, the department consisted of a small all-volunteer force and a couple of fire trucks. Today, the department has one paid firefighter and 28 active volunteers in addition to junior members and several associate members who also belong to neighboring departments.

I dont think you can understand how much the people in this room mean to me, Tennant told those in attendance.

Tennant was lured to Tryon Estates that evening by a fire alarm activation at the retirement community in Columbus. The fire alarm call was nothing new to Tennant, but soon after entering the room, Tennant realized the setup as he was met with a standing ovation.

It was the only way we could get him here, said Columbus Deputy Fire Chief Bobby Arledge. If we told him we were having a retirement party, he wouldnt have shown up. If its a fire call, we know hes coming.

Arledge will take over the chief position at the beginning of the year.

Tennant was presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, along with several other presentations from many of the service agencies Tennant has worked closely with over the years. Those in attendance included all Polk County emergency service and law enforcement agencies, mutual aid fire departments and Regional One.

The opportunity to work with him in so many roles has been incredible, said Tryon Fire Chief Joey Davis. He has been a colleague, my fire chief and most importantly, my friend.

Davis served as the Polk County Fire Marshal and later as deputy chief at the Columbus Fire Department before taking the Tryon fire chief position.

Tennant expressed surprise when presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, which has also been awarded to Bob Timberlake, Charles Kuralt and fellow University of North Carolina Alumnus, Michael Jordan. The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is presented to individuals who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state. The long leaf pine is the official state tree of North Carolina and as of the end of 2006, has been awarded to just under 6,700 individuals.

Tennants version of retirement will still involve responding to emergency calls. He refers to it as a retirement, but says not much will change.

Will I get up at three in the morning to go to a tree down, Tennant said, Probably not. But if we have something like we had (a couple of weeks ago) on I-26 (referring to a fatality wreck), you can bet Im coming.