Gerry Orth (left) is the new fire chief in Alpena after being nominated by Alpena Volunteer Fire Department firemen. Gary Orth (right) served as the fire chief for a decade and said he is lucky to be able to pass the torch to his son.

Orth passes the torch to son, second generation firefighter 

After a decade of serving as fire chief for the Alpena Volunteer Fire Department, Gary Orth is passing the torch — to someone who has been learning the ropes alongside him for most of his life — his son Gerry.  

“I’m lucky, very few people get to do that,” Gary said. “I’m really proud, it couldn’t be any better than this.”

Stepping down after 10 years as chief, Gary said he will continue to serve as a firefighter and EMT, adding what he hopes are many more years to the 38 he already has under his belt on the Alpena Volunteer Fire Department. 

Gary said that at the February fire meeting earlier this year, he told the department that he was 100 percent ready to step down as fire chief.

“I said this is it. For several years I’ve told the department I was ready to be done as chief but the firemen would talk me into one more year,” Gary said, laughing. “I asked the firemen to figure out who was going to be the next chief, not me. And it was Gerry they nominated.”

Gary said that Eric Siemonsma, assistant fire chief was pretty persistent when it came to Gerry’s nomination.

“Gerry’s pretty busy, in addition to raising his family with Kim, he serves on the township board, the school board, owns and operates his concrete business and farms,” said Gary. “But he got the nomination and I’m very happy he accepted.”  

While Gerry may be new to the fire chief position, he has more than two decades of service on the Alpena Fire Department, having started as a fireman when he was only 18.

“It was never a question that I was going to serve on the fire department,” said the second generation firefighter.  “I would always be with my dad at fundraisers and at the fire hall with all the guys. He always just took me along.”

Gerry said that his dad has played an integral role over the past several decades when it came to the progress the Alpena Fire Department has seen. 

“The most rewarding experience during the past 38 years on the fire department has been the progress we’ve made, Gary said.  “We started out in the old building next door with a 1975 truck and a 1959 International. When the gym burned down, everything changed.”

In the early 1980s, a fire destroyed the gymnasium at Alpena High School. Despite only having two firetrucks, Alpena firemen were able to save the school but the devastating loss prompted Orth and the other firemen, along with the community, to invest in the fire department. 

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