Living Columns & Blogs

‘With a smile and a handshake’: Fire chief a grand addition to Beaufort’s parades

Reece Bertholf takes a selfie at a parade (not the Water Festival) with his wife, Mikie, along the parade route on Bay Street in Beaufort.
Reece Bertholf takes a selfie at a parade (not the Water Festival) with his wife, Mikie, along the parade route on Bay Street in Beaufort. Submitted

Beaufort loves a parade – the tramping of feet and every beat they hear of the drum – even in hot, swampy weather. Last week’s Water Festival parade continued in much the same tradition as it has since its inception, marking the midway point of the calendar year and the nearing end of summer.

In a recent newsletter, our mayor even listed the parade as one of his three favorite Water Festival events, because, in his words, “people are friendly and excited to see family and friends in the line of floats.” He and his fellow council members put up a united front on their float every year, but today’s world of instant access doesn’t encourage many politicians to be in attendance anymore.

Gone are the days when Gov. Carroll Campbell and Sen. Strom Thurmond would show up in summer suits astride horses to lead the parade down Carteret Street. It doesn’t seem like anyone is lamenting the absence of Gov. Henry McMaster or Sen. Lindsey Graham on horseback, but our mayor is right about one thing – a good parade is composed of local people who want to show off the best of the community.

That includes the men and women who help provide Beaufort’s rescue services.

A positive addition to recent parades is the presence of Beaufort Fire Chief Reece Bertholf, who has gone old-school in an attempt to be accessible. He’s not a politician who needs your vote every two to four years, but his friendly smile and paced stride in front of the red sea of fire engines is a welcomed gesture that harkens back to Beaufort’s small-town days.

“Parades, by their fundamental nature, are multiple strands of thread on the loom that is our community,” Bertholf said. “I am grateful to be part of that fabric.”

His approach is in contrast to the whir and buzz and panic we normally associate with the sirens of a fire truck coming our way, and a parade is the perfect avenue to remind us that emergency services personnel live and work among us.

“This has given friends and neighbors the opportunity to meet me, shake my hand, give me a high-five, take a selfie, or just smile and wave at their fire chief,” Bertholf said. “I believe our community deserves that and from the feedback I have received I know the community enjoys it.”

Part of the Beaufort Fire Department’s Mission Statement says that they will provide good customer service every time there is contact with a member of the community, and that they will “provide empathy, understanding and kindness” to everyone.

Being visible and approachable in a parade is just one of those ways to contact members of the community.

Like the person who drew the short straw in the Beaufort Lion’s Club and has to spend the parade in the furry Lion outfit, it can’t be easy to dress up in full fire chief regalia and walk the parade route. The sweat that could be wrung out of his clothes is probably enough to fill a bucket, but it’s a small price for Bertholf.

“It was clear when I took office that I had the opportunity of a lifetime to plug into the Beaufort and Port Royal community in a new, invigorating way and at the same time show my firefighter teammates exactly what our mission statement stands for,” Bertholf said.

If you missed him this go-round, don’t worry. He and his band of merry firemen will be back on the parade route soon.

“One step at a time, with a smile and a handshake.”

Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at