SMYRNA — Smyrna Fire Department Deputy Chief Brian Marcos has been named the 2020 Chief Fire Officer of the Year by the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs. But you won’t find Marcos taking credit for the honor.
“It’s humbling, and I’m honored for it. But it certainly could ... easily have gone to so many, because there has been some unbelievable leadership across public safety and the fire service in this pandemic,” Marcos told the MDJ. “Any time somebody wins an accolade or an individual accolade like this … it’s such a shared thing with people that are working with you, and around you.”
The award recognizes a fire officer who has “made a notable impact in their community,” and is considered a leader in the fire services industry. Marcos’ humility aside, he acknowledges he’s worked hard to help turn Smyrna’s Fire Department into a leading light of what public safety can be.
“That guy is a huge asset to our city,” Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton said of Marcos. “He’s very deserving of that honor, and we are so pleased to have him as part of our team. It’s well deserved. Just don’t make the article too long —his head will get too big and he won’t be able to walk in the fire department.”
Marcos attended Cumberland Christian Academy where he was a standout athlete, earning a basketball scholarship to Union College in Kentucky. While in high school, he found himself surrounded by public servants; three of his basketball coaches were firefighters with the county fire department. Their influence was profound. He cited “the idea of doing something that was team oriented and … the excitement of doing something every day that was different” as major reasons he joined the Smyrna Fire Department in 2006, adding that he “just fell in love with helping people.”
And the department, it would seem, loved Brian Marcos. In just eight years, he rose through the ranks, and was tapped as deputy chief around the same time that Roy Acree took the helm as fire chief.
“There had been some leadership changes that had happened pretty consistently over a two- to three-year period,” Marcos said. “So when this administration got in place, bringing some consistency ... a real plan forward for the future … really added some credibility to the department.”
He noted an ability for young firefighters to make their mark on the department as one of the qualities that makes Smyrna’s department special.
“In a department our size, if you wanted to put your fingerprints all over this department and leave a legacy or make an impact … you could do that the day you walk in the door. Because of the size of our department, you can make that kind of impact immediately,” he said.
Since his promotion, Marcos has overseen the day-to-day functions of the department, and has taken steps to both tighten up its internal processes and expand the scope of its standard operations.
“I’m a big proponent of leveraging the business community and the leadership of other industries to help us move forward,” he said.
One of the initiatives he’s most proud of is the United Leadership Program, which brings together all the fire departments of Cobb County, along with partners like Truist, Wellstar Health Systems, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, to identify and develop leaders in each department.
“The feedback we’ve gotten has been spectacular. The return on investment on it has been pretty interesting, too, because there’s been a lot of … career advancement with the participants that we’ve seen,” he added.
It’s that spirit of innovation that has attracted the attention of fire chiefs and other leaders in his industry. Aside from his recognition by the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs, Marcos has been invited to speak at departments throughout the state, and serves as the state director for the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs.
Asked if he could recall any particularly notable stories from his years with the department, Marcos was quiet for a moment, saying, “There’s just so many.”
He then sat up.
“This isn’t what you’re asking about—it’s not heroic or anything,” he began. “I wasn’t planning on applying for this position. Seven years ago, I was still new. It was still early in my career. And I didn’t feel like it was the right time for me.
“And a very respected lieutenant that had been here for about 34 years, he called me out of the blue … He doesn’t say a whole lot. But when he says stuff, you listen. He actually called me and encouraged me. He said, ‘Brian, you need to take advantage of this opportunity, and you need to apply.
“I just think about that … in how I lead and how I talk to our guys … you might not think you’re ready, and you might not be ready. But you know, when you got people betting on you and taking a chance on you, sometimes it’s worth taking that leap of faith.”