CEDAR CITY – Thirty-six loud booms shook Cedar City Tuesday night as the Cedar City Fire Department said goodbye to Fire Chief Paul Irons with fireworks – one for each year of service Irons has given to the department. Irons retires Thursday to be succeeded by current Cedar City Fire Marshal Mike Phillips.
The farewell party was a surprise to Irons and held at the department’s training facility, Fire Station No. 3, 3013 W. 1600 North in Cedar City. It was well-planned by the volunteer firefighters and Irons’ family, who helped lure him to the party, Phillips said.
“His grandson called him up and said, ‘Hey chief, my truck’s broke down, down by the west fire station, and I need you to come and help me,’” Phillips said. “But then, when he gets there, he sees all these cars …”
At first, Irons thought they were having a meeting without him, Phillips said, because everyone did such a good job keeping the secret in the preceding days. Only the attendees, city officials and police dispatch were notified in advance about Tuesday night’s plans.
A luncheon given Tuesday in his honor, with Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson and Sen. Evan J. Vickers paying him tribute, helped serve as a decoy so he wasn’t suspicious of the surprise, Phillips said.
“He keeps saying now that he should have put things together,” Phillips said. “But, basically, we tried to keep the night one a secret, because the volunteers wanted to have a special thing for him.”
The farewell surprise included a presentation showcasing Iron’s years of service to the community, as well as dinner and awards.
“We gave him a bell with an engraving on it for his 36 years of service,” Phillips said. “On one side was all of the firemen that he (had) served with, and on the other side was all of the firemen that he currently serves with.”
Irons’ firefighting career began in 1978 as a volunteer. In 1994, he became a full-time firefighter, Phillips said, continuing as an engineer until 1998 when he made captain. In 2002, Irons was promoted to fire chief.
Phillips began working with Irons as a full-time firefighter the same year he was promoted to captain, he said, and he learned a lot from working at Irons’ side. The most important lesson, he said, was a deep love and understanding of the volunteer firemen and everything they do to help the community.
“I don’t think the general public understands what the volunteers do for the Fire Department,” Phillips said. “If you think about it, the volunteers work another full-time job and then they come down here and become a firefighter when someone’s house is on fire.”
Irons’ ability to pull the full-time firefighters and the volunteers together was one of his greatest contributions to the department, Wilson said.
“He has done an amazing job of uniting the two different groups and meeting the needs of both,” she said. “It’s much more challenging to run that type of a department than an all full-time work force.”
While Irons will be sorely missed by many, the mayor said, she has the utmost faith in the ability of the incoming fire chief to step into his predecessor’s shoes.
“Mike (Phillips) has been with the department for 20 years,” Wilson said. “He has a very good understanding of all of the regulations; he has done training for the other firefighters. He is just a huge asset to this community.”
Phillips will take over leadership of the Fire Department Jan. 5, 2015, and a swearing-in ceremony will be held Jan 7, 2015.
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