Covington’s first paid black firefighter retires
After 38 years of service, one of the Covington Fire Department’s “honest” and “experienced” employees has retired from the department.
Former Battalion Chief Michael Turner, 59, served his last day with the fire department Dec. 31. A retirement ceremony will be held for him Thursday, Jan. 30 at the Turner Lake Complex. However, before being honored, Turned shared the experiences he has had while working at the fire department.
Though the Covington Fire department had several black
volunteers since its inception, Turner became the first paid black firefighter in 1976. He said he came to the department after a suggestion of his brother, Almond Turner, who served as a police officer for the city of Covington at the time.
“My brother called me one day and said, ‘Do you think you may have some interest in working at the fire department?’ I said, ‘Um, I don’t know. I’ve never gave it any thought.’ So I did and I considered it,” Turner said. “He told me to just come in and see Chief Jack Parker, who was the fire chief at the time. And I came in and spoke with him. I got an application. I filled it out and got hired afterwards.”
As one of the departments first paid black firefighters, Turner explained that he feared he would not be accepted by other firefighters at the department.
“I was a skeptical …But once I started working, everyone treated me nice. I didn’t know what the training would be, but they kind of gave me ideas of what to expect and then I just kind of fell in line,” he said.
“I did fear the fact that I was black. I didn’t know how they were going to treat me by me being different than what they were. In my feelings, I was not any different. At first we did have some problems. But I don’t know how many years or months after that, they hired several other blacks.”
Once Turner overcame his fears of becoming one of the first paid blacks hired at the department, he explained that anxiety also set in as he was also a beginning firefighter.
“I didn’t know what to expect. Going into a building structure that’s burning and everyone else is coming out, and you’re going in was a very scary moment,” he said. “Going inside a burning building, most of the time you have zero visibility, it’s very hot and… just my first time was very scary.”
Despite challenges at the start of his career, Turner moved up in the ranks over the years while at the fire department. Through the years, he has served as a fire engineer driver, a lieutenant, a captain and most recently battalion chief.
Turner has also completed a list of management, public and fire safety training courses, and has received a number of certificates and awards during his tenure with the department. Some of those awards include the Rodney T. Floyd award for outstanding achievement and the Jack Parker award for an excellent performance.
Turner has worked under four fire chiefs while at the department, including Chiefs Jack Parker, Whatley Curtis, Don Floyd and current fire Chief John McNeil, who took over as fire chief in 2011. Chief McNeil said though he has known Turner for a short time, he will miss having his honesty and humor around at the fire department.
“He would be very honest with me whether he felt like it was a good move or not. And I appreciated that in him because I want people to be honest. I certainly wanted to move the department in the right direction,” Chief McNeil said.
“He cares a lot about firefighters on his shift and he had a very successful career coming in as a firefighter and then ending up as a chief officer. That’s a tremendous accomplishment.”
Though Turner has retired, Chief McNeil said he still welcomes his advice.
“He has shown up and he continues to give me feedback,” Chief McNeil joked. “Yes he does. He still comes around, which we’re happy about that. Some retirees disappear and others like himself come and visit to have coffee or just to hang out, he said.
“When you are a part of an organization for 38 years, I could imagine that it’s very hard to just walk away because you’ve developed so many friendships.”
Turner said so far, he has missed being around his staff, socializing with them and getting assignments. He said what he will miss most is serving the citizens of Covington and the community.
Turner currently works part-time with Enterprise Rental Car, but he said he’s looking forward to fishing and traveling during his retirement.
Turner and his wife Barbara have been married for 39 years. They will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in February. They have two adult children, Michael and Alicia.