‘He set the stage’: Salisbury firefighting community gathers to honor former chief

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, January 12, 2022

SALISBURY — The chimney fire might’ve been extinguished, but Marvin Yost wasn’t ready to leave the scene just yet.

Standing outside of a ramshackle house on Bringle Ferry Road, the assistant chief gathered his firefighters around. A “no nonsense” leader, Yost wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to preach preparation.

“He said, ‘Fellas, this house is another fire waiting to happen,’” Bob Parnell recalls. “‘Check out where your fire hydrants are, make sure you know where your obstacles are for your ladder trucks.’”

That was in 1980. More than 40 years later, Parnell — now chief of the Salisbury Fire Department — remembers the impression that moment made on him.

“That set the stage for someone like me who was barely 20 or 21 years old and just starting in the fire department here in Salisbury,” Parnell said. “He set the stage for us and let us know that pre-planning was critical to our survival and the survival of the citizens.”

Yost set the stage for countless firefighters during his 37-and-a-half-year career with the Salisbury Fire Department that spanned from 1947 to 1984. Yost served as assistant fire chief for 22 years and a fire service instructor for Rowan-Cabarrus College.

The well-respected chief died last week at the age of 98.

Firefighters once again gathered for Yost on Tuesday afternoon. This time, to send him off with full firefighter honors at the Salisbury-Rowan Fighters Memorial at Chestnut Hill Cemetery. 

The ceremony followed a funeral at Haven Lutheran Church. A procession of firetrucks led the hearse from the church to the memorial — located just a few feet away from a fire station where Yost once worked. Two antique fire trucks stood by as the service unfolded, one with its ladder extended and an American flag hanging halfway up.

Firefighters carried the casket beneath the memorial’s flag pole. A gloved firefighter rang a shining silver bell, fitting for those who knew Yost and his dedication to always being prepared for a fire.

“When the bell rang, we knew we were in for business,” Parnell said. “He expected us to not be lackadaisical or off our game. He wanted 110% out of us as firefighters.”

Yost, also a World War II veteran, didn’t just help guide young firefighters and lead the response to major conflagrations in Salisbury. He was responsible for recruiting new firefighters to the department. That included Tom Murphy, who decided to join on a lark while in college. Yost’s son, Dennis, was married to Murphy’s sister and helped put in a good word for Murphy during the recruitment process.

“I give him credit for even getting me on the fire department,” Murphy said. 

Murphy ended up serving with the city fire department for 36 years before becoming the Rowan County fire marshal, a position he retired from in 2012. 

Current Rowan County Fire Marshal Deborah Horne has her own fond memories of Yost.

“He was a wonderful man with the warmest smile you have ever seen,” Horne said. 

Horne said Yost was always quick to tell a great story, many of them from the days when battling blazes was completely different. 

Having outlived most of his peers, Yost joked with former Salisbury Post reporter Mark Wineka in 2016 that he was the “Last of the Mohicans.” His tales were a bridge to the time before, when air tanks were sparingly used and a firefighter’s turnout gear was simply a raincoat, hip boots, a tin helmet and cotton gloves.

“He was the last of that era,” Murphy said.

Even after retirement, Yost liked to connect with the next generation of firefighters. He could be found at department Christmas parties or breakfast gatherings. Yost also advocated for better equipment for the fire department, long after he stopped using it himself.

“Firefighting was in his blood and he was proud of the fire department,” Parnell said.

Yost was honored for his contributions in 2011 when Mayor Susan Kluttz proclaimed April 14 as “Marvin R. Yost Day” in the city. The idea for the honor came from Parnell, who still credits Yost with inspiring him to be the chief he is today.

“I hope I’m half the guy he is,” Parnell said. “I hope I’m half the chief he is.”