Cliffs Living: Glassy Volunteer Firefighters

Glassy Volunteer Firefighters are a hot topic around The Cliffs.

GMFD volunteers are fired up for community service.

There are days Mark Smith will never forget.

Like this one: The Glassy Mountain Fire Department (GMFD) responds to a horrific car crash. Firefighters use the Jaws of Life to extract the driver, who is young, terrified, and seriously injured. A helicopter awaits some distance away—it’s rough terrain here.

“I was holding her hand while the younger guys carried the stretcher. I kept telling her she’s being so brave, so brave … she was in shock, just scared as can be, but I was able to calm her down a little bit,” Smith recalls. “And that touched my heart.”

It motivates his spirit, too. Smith is one of a dozen committed members at The Cliffs who volunteer in a variety of capacities for GMFD, which covers a fire service area that’s 52 square miles and five stations strong in the northern portion of Greenville County, South Carolina. These men bring the community several hundred years of combined experience as firefighters and first responders.

“They’re willing to get up in the middle of a meal to run out and help somebody who’s having the worst day of their life,” says Smith, who was inspired by their unwavering dedication to get involved when he retired to The Cliffs at Glassy in 2012 after a career in finance and commercial real estate. “My hat’s off to people like that.”

Mark Shaver complemented his career as a global executive with a mining equipment company by serving as a volunteer fire chief in West Virginia for 23 years; a retiree at The Cliffs Valley since 2017, he now serves as GMFD’s chaplain. Shaver is also trained to fight structure fires which, fortunately, the Glassy Mountain department sees only a couple of times a year.“We all need to give back in some way or another,” he says. “Service isn’t something you do, it’s an attitude.”

Bob Otto shares that attitude—and has since he was 21. He recalls that time he took off work and spent three days pitching in after a tornado ripped through his hometown outside of Cincinnati, Ohio.

After a career with GE Aircraft Engines, Otto initially purchased a homesite in 2008 at The Cliffs at Keowee Falls and joined the Keowee Fire Department. When he and his wife moved into The Cliffs Valley, he signed up with GMFD.“I said, ‘Oh, my God, this is beautiful. I love it,’” Otto says. “You know, when you’ve got an emergency and somebody needs you, you go and do it. That’s what life is about. We help each other. We’re a community.”

John Soley moved to The Cliffs Valley in 2019 and recently volunteered to fulfill many of the non-firefighting duties that must be done.“You live in a community, and you look at the service that’s provided by the fire department, and you think, ‘Gee, all these people around here are relying upon this. How can I help out in some way?’” Soley says.

Stuart Safft is helping in a new way. After 25 years as a volunteer firefighter and an EMT for 40—with six different departments as he and his wife relocated several times—he’s now also part of GMFD’s Board of Fire Commissioners, which boasts five members of The Cliffs.

“A lot of things you do are good things, they’re very intangible, or they’re a tiny piece of a huge group that’s doing things,” says Safft, who continues to drive trucks and operate some of the department equipment.That’s the thing. Firefighting isn’t just fighting fires, and GMFD Chief Robert Staples is quick to list a variety of supporting roles. He appreciates every single volunteer—and he welcomes more. If someone wants to serve, he can for sure find something for them to do.

Of The Cliffs crew, he says, “They’ve been able to retire, they moved to a beautiful community here in northern Greenville County, and they want to give back. It’s fantastic because it’s a vital need.”

This story was featured in Cliffs Living magazine. To read more stories like this one and learn more about The Cliffs, subscribe here.

Want to volunteer with Glassy Mountain Fire Department (but don’t want to fight fires)?

Non-firefighting opportunities include:

  • Firefighter Rehabilitation—provide nourishment for crew and fill air cylinders on the fire scene
  • Lost/Injured Hiker—participate in search-and-rescue efforts
  • Apparatus Operator—drive/operate water tenders for shuttling water between fire hydrants and fire apparatus on the scene
  • Traffic Control—provide traffic direction during accidents that are complicated and/or of a long duration
  • Emergency Medical Services—provide care to the ill or injured
  • Road Maintenance—clear fallen trees and other debris from roadways
  • To volunteer at GMFD, contact Chief Robert Staples or Kelley Murphy at (864) 895-4306 or email

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