Rebecca Strobl, a six-year veteran of the community’s all-volunteer fire department was elected April 11 by her peers.
“I never dreamed when I started with the department six years ago that not only would I be a firefighter, an EMT intermediate but I’d also be a chief,” she said.
Strobl, who manages inside sales for a Roswell-based security company, said knowing she’s the first woman to lead a county fire department is “huge.”
“The biggest thing is just (knowing) that hard work does pay off,” she said.
Cherokee County Fire Chief Tim Prather said he worked with Strobl shortly after he became chief a few years ago and she always manages to make him smile.
“She loves helping her community and has the motivation to be the best she can be,” he said. “(The Lake Arrowhead)
community should be honored and proud to have such a professionally driven and dedicated person to lead the volunteers of Lake Arrowhead.”
Strobl and her husband, Gary, also a volunteer firefighter, have lived in and managed the Mountain View Condominiums in Lake Arrowhead since 2003.
It was at the condominiums almost four years ago when Strobl said she felt propelled to earn her firefighter certification.
On June 30, 2009, eight units in her complex were destroyed by an early morning fire, taking the life of her neighbor, 27-year-old Whitney Luna.
At the time, Strobl was taking classes to earn her EMT certification and had her alarm set for 4 a.m. to study for a test. Instead, she was awakened by news of the flames.
“I wasn’t a firefighter yet, so I put on my hat as the manager of the property,” she said.
Strobl said seeing all of the Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services personnel working the scene motivated her to go further.
“When I got the chance to go to firefighter school the next year, I jumped on it,” she said. “I thought that I could offer somebody on a fire scene that a lot of other firefighters, whether they’re men or women, can’t offer people: I lived through it and I actually lost a neighbor who was a really awesome lady in that fire.”
Strobl, a former recipient of Cherokee County Volunteer Firefighter of the Year, said going forward in her new role she wants to make it a priority for her peers to continue to earn certification and have more of a presence in the community through participating in more local events.
“It means a lot to the people in the community knowing that somebody lives here and that they know the area,” she said.
Originally from Michigan, Strobl and her husband, who attended Life University, visited Georgia on a winter trip and Strobl was sold immediately.
“I literally told him have someone send our stuff down,” she said. “At the time it was -12 degrees in Michigan and we were at Kennesaw Mountain that day. It was like 60 degrees and sunny.”
On top of her full-time job and managing the condominium complex part-time, Strobl also advises the Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services Explorer Post.
She and the other volunteers meet to train each Thursday night and she spends more than 120 hours each year just to maintain the proper certifications. She also writes a monthly column about safety in Lake Arrowhead Magazine.
“I don’t own a television,” she joked. “A lot of times it means working a lot of nights and weekends, but for me it’s worth it.”
In her new role, Strobl oversees the seven active volunteer firefighters at Station 27 and is responsible for making sure all members are adequately trained per local and state standards, responding to 911 calls and maintaining equipment.
Lake Arrowhead has two fire stations: Station 27, the all-volunteer station in the south end and Station 17 at the north end, which retains two paid county firefighters per shift. Both stations were taken on by county fire services in 2008.
Strobl said it can sometimes take about 10 to 15 minutes to drive between the north and south gates on the 8,500-acre development.
“In some cases, for those 10 minutes, that can make the difference between life and death,” she said.
Strobl said the best part about being a volunteer firefighter is being able to help her friends and neighbors on the scene.
“When anybody calls 911, it’s the worst day of their life,” she said. “My commitment is when I show up at the scene, I’m going to do everything in my power to make it a better day for them.”