Cov­ing­ton’s first paid black fire­fighter re­tires

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - DANIELLE EVER­SON de­v­er­son@cov­

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.

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