Dec. 17—The fire, police and rescue community has been reeling from the unexpected death of Maggie Valley Fire and Rescue Chief Chris "Bubba" Carver, known both for his heart of gold and nerves of steel.
Carver was only 54, but had spent 40 of those years with Maggie Valley Fire and Rescue after joining the junior firefighters when he was 14.
"The fire department has been his life — literally," said Scott Sutton, former Maggie Police Chief and chair of the fire department board. "He'll be missed tremendously."
Hundreds turned out for Carver's funeral on Wednesday afternoon, widely attended by fire, police and rescue personnel from across the county and region, as well as community members at large.
The service included an End of Watch call out: three times, a dispatcher called for Carver to come in, followed each time by a chilling moment of silence. The tradition symbolizes the last radio call for fallen fire, police and rescue personnel.
Carver passed away last Friday at Mission Hospital after falling ill.
Those who worked under Carver lauded the culture he created within the department.
"He knew how to rally the guys," said Scott Pauley, a former Maggie alderman and full-time captain. "The camaraderie in the station was unmatched. He kept the troops focused and both feet in the fire. He was a big guy with an even bigger heart. The impact of his loss will be felt tremendously."
Zach Reeves, a current captain at Maggie Fire and Rescue, said it was an honor and privilege to work for Carver.
"Best boss I ever had. One of the best friends I ever had," Reeves said.
Carver had a knack for fostering unity within the department.
"We were family. He would always give his shirt off your back for you," Volunteer Firefighter James Kirkland said.
As Shayne Wheeler waited under the portico of Calvary Road Baptist Church before Carver's funeral Wednesday, she remarked on the throngs of people who'd turned out to pay their respects.
"All these folks here are a testament to who and what Bubba was," said Wheeler, treasurer for the Maggie Fire and Rescue for the past nine years. "The firemen loved him. Our young guys really looked up to Bubba. He took them under his wing and nurtured them and brought them up."
Carver was known only as Bubba. His real name was a mystery to most.
"People would often call me and say 'What's his real name?'" Waynesville Fire Chief Joey Webb recalled.
Jerry Nelson, a pastor at Liberty Baptist Church who spoke at Carver's service, recalled the first time he met the three Carver brothers. They introduced themselves as Tim, Victor and Bubba.
"What's your real name?" Nelson had asked.
"Bubba," Carver replied.
Kris Boyd, a childhood friend, said Bubba's brother, Victor, said it best.
"Everybody liked Bubba," Boyd said. "It's as simple as a statement as needs to be made. Victor has that nailed 100%."
Many who remembered Carver noted his unwavering dedication to his life-long passion of serving the community.
"Decades of service, day in and day out — every single day, Bubba Carver was at that fire department," said Greg Shuping, former Emergency Service Director for the county. Shuping said. "I cannot recall a single real emergency when he wasn't there. That's the kind of person we're here to acknowledge and remember."
In a small town, the fire department does a lot more than put out fires. They show up for emergencies of all kinds, from landslides and snowstorms to medical calls, jumping in until paramedics arrive and staying around to help as long as needed.
Sometimes, the fire department was just a friendly neighbor.
"When there was snow, he would get people who couldn't get out and take them to their doctor's appointments," Webb recalled.
Steve Hinson, a Maggie firefighter for 25 years, said Carver was a good man and a good leader.
"If you needed something, we could sit down and talk and get it figured out," Hinson said, noting his open door policy.
Maggie Valley Fire and Rescue formed in 1959, predating the official town of Maggie Valley. Thus, it isn't a town entity, but could always be counted on by the town.
"Anything we needed, they provided," said Scott Sutton, who was police chief during Carver's tenure as fire chief.
The same was said of Carver by other fire departments across the county.
"Bubba was great to work with," said Chris Chandler, chief of the Saunook Fire Department. "Anytime you needed any type of assistance, Maggie Valley would be happy to provide it and that was under the leadership of Chief Carver."
Carver became the chief of Maggie Fire and Rescue in 2010. He wasn't the only fire chief in his family. Across the county, his brother, Tim Carver, was the Canton Fire Chief, but is retiring this month. Sadly, the era of the Carver brothers — two boys drawn by sirens in their youth who went on to bookended the county as fire chiefs — has come to a close.
MAMA, the Mission helicopter, did a flyover for his funeral, which also included a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace and a ringing of the bell.
While it's been too early for the grief-stricken department to start talking in earnest about who will become chief, it will have to be broached soon.
"Everybody relied on him," Webb said. "Somebody has to step up and fill that void."