Retired Fla. fire chief recalls 30-year career

By Mike Ferguson
The Ledger

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — After three decades with the Winter Haven Fire Department, a familiar face said goodbye Monday.

Fire Chief Chris Humphrey's retirement became official at the end of the work day. Humphrey, 54, had been chief since July when Tony Jackson retired. He was assistant chief since 1999.

“It was a good opportunity to serve in that role,” Humphrey told The Ledger on Monday. “I wish I had more time, but the way the cards were dealt, it was time for me to go.”

Humphrey said he signed up for the city's drop program five years ago and the terms expired Monday. Humphrey had been an employee of the Fire Department since 1988.

“The biggest thing I'll miss is the fellowship,” Humphrey said. “The family atmosphere is what I think I'll miss the most.”

Over Humphrey's 30 years in Winter Haven, he watched the city's population and Fire Department staff more than double. In 1988, Winter Haven had a population of just more than 20,000 and 33 fire employees. Today, it has a population of more than 40,000 and more than 70 employees.

“I just enjoyed it so much, it never seemed like work,” Humphrey said. “I just stayed busy and one day, I woke up and 30 years had gone by. I had better than I deserved.”

Humphrey retires with a number of certifications and an associate's degree from Polk State College. Humphrey was honored for his service at last week's City Commission meeting.

“He always remembered where he came from,” City Manager Mike Herr said during the meeting. “He started out as a firefighter; he had the respect of the firefighters.”

Humphrey said the decision to retire will give him more time with his family. Humphrey and his wife, Terri, have three children — two sons and one daughter — but only the youngest still lives at home.

“We really struggled with this decision,” Humphrey said at last week's meeting. “My family and I made the decision to move on.”

Herr agreed that the Fire Department was a family atmosphere. During Hurricane Irma, he said, Humphrey's wife, children and dogs spent time at the Fire Department.

Humphrey's final salary was $114,500.

“If you can leave with your integrity, if you can leave with your character and you can leave with the respect of the men and women you've served with, you've led a pretty good life,” Herr said.

Copyright 2018 The Ledger

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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