Firefighters, friends, family, city officials and members of the Orange Beach community gathered Tuesday, May 28 at Orange Beach Fire Station No. 1 to honor Chief Justin Pearce who will be retiring from the department in June.
Following a blessing of the Fire Department’s two new ambulances that officially went into service on Tuesday, the event shifted to being a surprise retirement party for Chief Pearce.
Chief Pearce will be moving with his wife Dr. Stephanie Pearce and their son Hayden to Colorado, where Dr. Pearce will be starting a fellowship for pediatric orthopedics.
Mayor Tony Kennon said he's thankful for Chief Pearce's time with the city.
"We're sad to see him leave but wish them the best," Mayor Kennon said. "Chief Pearce has been an asset to the city. He has helped lift the department to new levels and the community is so much better for it."
Chief Pearce started his firefighting career in Orange Beach at the age of 15 as a volunteer cadet and then became full time in 1997. From there he went into fire prevention then was promoted to lieutenant, followed by captain and battalion chief. After the resignation of Chief Shane Phillips in January 2017, Pearce agreed to serve as interim chief and then chief in February 2018.
“This is a very hard time for me obviously,” Chief Pearce said to those gathered in the bays of Fire Station No. 1 on Tuesday. “Lots of people have helped get me to where I am in my life and I appreciate that.”
He credited all of the Orange Beach firefighters as well as the department’s leadership and staff for making the department what it is. “You guys are what makes this department run; makes this department work. Thank you and thank you to Mickey Robinson, the first fire chief. He took a chance on hiring me and I don’t know if I ever lived up to his expectations but I try to every day. Mayor and council, the support that you have given me over the last two and a half years, the things we have been able to accomplish with your help, I thank you for that. … I’m going to miss all of you.”
Retired Chief Mickey Robinson said when Chief Pearce first became a paid member of the department, he thought, “Man, is he even old enough to be here?”
Since that time, Robinson said Chief Pearce grew into his role and took over as chief at a tough time but stepped up to the challenge. “He did a good job.”
Orange Beach City Council Chairman Pro-tem Annette Mitchell wanted to make sure Chief Pearce always knows how much she and the city appreciate his service.
“You became chief during a very tough time for us and through your strength and through your determination and your skill, we all recovered and we are stronger and better for it,” Mitchell said. “And if I don’t get to say it enough to every fire employee, thank you. Thank you from the mayor, from the City Council and everyone in this community that you serve and protect. Thank you, Justin. We wish you the best always.”
City Administrator Ken Grimes said Chief Pearce has been a great leader throughout his career in the Orange Beach Fire Department but he has proven his integrity and strengths during his tenure as Fire Chief.
“Justin is a man of character and we respect and fully support his decision to step down to take care of his family needs as his wife serves her fellowship to become a pediatric orthopedic surgeon,” Grimes said. “We appreciate his career and many years of service to the people of Orange Beach."