Fire marshal, firefighter Tim Ganey: 'It's not a job, it's a life'

In this issue’s Spotlight, meet Tim Ganey, SUNY Oswego’s fire marshal and code compliance manager in the Office of Environmental Health and Safety. He has held public office and was in law enforcement for a time, but his primary focus—day and night—is the safety of students, employees and his fellow citizens.

Q. Where were you born and raised?
A. I was born in Auburn. When I was 5, my father moved us—three boys and three girls—to a house he built between Weedsport and Jordan.

Q. When did you get interested in fire safety?
A. A gentleman in high school in ‘73 invited me to a meeting at the Weedsport Fire Department to join as a volunteer firefighter. That was when the bug bit me. I’ve been a volunteer fireman, internal firefighter and EMT for more than 42 years. I still maintain those certifications to this day. You have to have a passion for life safety. It’s not a job, it’s a life.

Q. What other fire departments have you served?
A. When I got married in 1980, we moved to Elbridge. I transferred to the Elbridge Fire Department, and I was there for 32 years. I’ve been at Liverpool Volunteer Fire Department—we bought a house there three years ago—and was recently elected to the (department’s) executive board. I held all the positions up to fire chief of two of the departments. I was a nuclear firefighter at Nine Mile Point for eight and a half years, prior to getting laid off in 1993. I was a shift supervisor in the fire protection group. I then became an Onondaga County sheriff’s deputy for 15 years. I also was a two-term mayor of the village of Elbridge.

Q. Tell us a bit about your time as mayor.
A. I was proud of our record. I would get right into a water main break—we averaged four or five a winter—and run the backhoe, go get stone, help out. We never put in vouchers, never submitted any bills to the people, because we felt that was the right thing to do. It was never an “I” issue, it was “we.” We had many accomplishments. When I left, we had a $752,000 surplus and we gave the money back to the 1,275 village residents—a zero tax bill for the year 2000-01.

Q. How long have you been at SUNY Oswego?
A. Seven and a half years. It’s been a fun ride. I’d been a code compliance officer, certified since 1991. A friend of mine who was the fire marshal and code compliance manager for (SUNY) Upstate called me up and said he was retiring. I went through the interview process and got hired there. Eric (Foertch, now Oswego’s director of environmental health and safety) was working at Upstate, and left to come here about the time I started there. Oswego didn’t have a fire marshal. He later called me up and said, “How would you like to work here?” I liked the people, liked the tour, loved the area, the smell of fresh air off the lake. The bug bit again. (Laughs.)

Q. Are your duties in fire protection and codes compliance intertwined?
A. They are pretty much intertwined these days. We manage all the fire safety systems on campus. We have 1,376 fire extinguishers on campus—they have to be inspected monthly—and about 19,585 fire alarm devices: pull stations, smoke, heat, combination and carbon monoxide detectors. We have 17 Ansul kitchen systems with a clean surfactant agent, a soapy water mixture—in case of a cooking fire, it can be discharged onto the grill. We also perform elevator testing—annual and semiannual, depending on what we’re testing. We work with local fire departments, the county hazmat team, county emergency management. We give tours of the campus elevators and shutoffs including our hazardous materials safety systems. We attend quarterly meetings of local emergency services for Oswego County. The state Office of Fire Prevention and Control performs our annual campus inspection for 10 days in March or April. We inspect 66 buildings, including Phoenix, Metro Center, Fallbrook, Rice Creek.

Q. What about the codes part of the job?
A. With any renovation of more than 50 percent of a building, the entire structure has to be brought up to current code. We write work orders for any life safety concerns that need repair. We issue campus construction permits. We’ve got Tyler (Hall) under the knife now—we perform weekly inspections. Energy code is big right now. Solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal pumps at Shineman—all were unheard of years ago. All generators on campus have to be run every month for a minimum of two hours under load. We inspect door-openers for people with disabilities, assistive-listening devices for the hearing impaired. We also train our residence hall advisers twice a year. We have 66 AEDs (automated external defibrillators) on campus that we maintain and inspect monthly. The college is installing carbon monoxide (CO) detection on campus wherever there is a potential source of CO, and they have to be tested annually. Christine (Body), Charlene (Walthert) and Eric (Foertch) monitor asbestos abatement, fume hoods, other hazardous materials.

Q. Do you get good cooperation from students, especially during fire drills?
A. Absolutely. And Residence Life and Housing staff are second to none. One student after a drill at 5 o’clock in the morning mentioned a few expletives during his exit of the building. He was just mad due to being woken up and I apologized to him. I replied. “Look on the good side, this was the first test you didn’t have to study for.”  According to the codes, we have to conduct drills prior to sunrise, after sunrise and at all hours of the day or night. During a fire drill at Funnelle Hall, one girl came out of her residence hall room early in the morning and had a rabbit in her hands. I said, “What is this, a game farm?” (Laughs.) Then you go back and check the student handbook to she if she’s allowed to have it (note: only with written approvals and roommate sign-off).

Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?
A. Every time a system comes to life, every time it activates, that puts a smile on my face. Everyone in EHS is on the top of their game. We don’t go home unless all the systems are foolproof and in service. If we find a hazard or deficiency or tampering, we address the issue immediately. It makes me feel good knowing the campus community is safe.

Q. With all this and your volunteer fire duties, do you get any rest?
A. I don’t rest. I go home and take a shower and go to the firehouse. I respond (to alarm callouts) in the middle of the night. It’s fun, once you get involved in it.

Q. What else can you tell us about your family?
A. My wife, Debbie, and I have three children. Our oldest daughter is a nurse and does home infusions. My son is a music ed teacher at Onondaga Community College. My other daughter is an administrative assistant working for four surgeons at St. Joe’s (Hospital Health Center). I have a granddaughter, Kennedy Olivia, 16 months old. We have two dogs, a black Lab and a Jack Russell. My father was an Irish-Catholic diehard Marine Corps drill sergeant. He taught us the values of honesty, respect and honor. That’s the way he brought all six of us up—to respect your flag, respect your fellow man. He rose from courier to chairman of the board of Cayuga Savings Bank.