Following a more than three-decade career in public service, Lincolnton Fire Chief Mike Lee had his last day in the office on Monday but won’t officially retire until early next month.
“I have really enjoyed serving the citizens,” he told the Times-News on Monday.
Lee said that while he could have stayed in the position longer, he is ready to move on.
“I have done all that I can to improve and grow the department,” he said. “I believe in growth and improvement, and I don’t feel that there is anything else that I can do to really make a difference for the department.”
During his four-year stint as head of the city fire agency, the department added a second station along with three additional firefighters, changes that Lee believed greatly “improved the response capability” of fire crews.
Perhaps, one of his fondest and most unforgettable memories serving Lincolnton was the night he dressed as woman and participated in the Rotary Club’s “Womanless Beauty Pageant” for breast cancer research.
This summer, one of his young firefighters, Adam Dancoff, fractured his vertebrae after a boating accident on Lake Norman, placing him in a wheelchair. The news shocked both Lee and his entire fire team.
He also remembers the 2008 city blaze at Southern Fibers on S. Grove Street, a conflagration so large that he and other fire personnel were not allowed to respond to the site except for the firefighters who first arrived on scene. The most traumatic moments during his firefighting career stemmed from deadly fires, which claimed the lives of two individuals since 2008.
“Those were unfortunate, and no firefighter ever wants to respond to an incident involving a fatality,” he said.
Death has been something he’s seen on more than one occasion during his 33 years in public service. Through those experiences, he’s become increasingly thankful for his family’s health and resources.
“I have seen so many people and families with so little,” he said.
Lee started his career in 1979 as a military police investigator with the United States Army followed by his one-year service as a Sheriff’s deputy in Alamance County where he grew up.
He remained in the law enforcement career path for nine more years, working as a trooper for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
Lee switched occupations in 1993 when he joined the Greensboro Fire Department and has been settling blazes and other catastrophes ever since.
Lee and his wife plan to move back to Greensboro following his retirement. While he has no set after-retirement plans, he does anticipate occupying his days with some sort of part-time work.
City Manager Jeff Emory is expected to announce Lee’s replacement on Friday. Assistant Fire Chief Mitch Burgin is currently in charge of the department.
Lee gave the Times-News his words of wisdom for the city’s next fire chief, pointing out how people are always the “priority” in any public service position.
“If you take care of the personnel, they will take care of you,” he said, “and remember that the fire service is here to save lives and protect property.”
Lee officially retires on Oct. 1.