Long Beach’s fire chief will retire in October, the city announced Tuesday.
Mike DuRee, a 24-year veteran of the LBFD who was picked to lead the department in 2012, will leave his post on Oct. 5, according to the announcement.
The city said it plans to search for an internal replacement for DuRee and announce the new chief before his departure.
DuRee, 50, is a Long Beach native and a fourth-generation firefighter.
“I have been honored to serve as the Fire Chief for the Long Beach Fire Department,” DuRee said in a statement. “It was my dream, as a child, to follow in the footsteps of my father, grandfather and great-grandfather and join the Long Beach Fire Department.”
He started at the LBFD as a firefighter in 1994 before rising through the ranks. The city’s announcement praised him for creating the department’s homeless outreach—or HEART—team, diversifying the department’s recruiting system and boosting community engagement with projects like reforming the LBFD’s Community Emergency Response Team.
“The city team is going to miss the chief tremendously,” City Manager Patrick West said. “He is a popular figure throughout our city and really developed the culture and drove the work ethic of our amazing men and women of our Fire Department, who run toward danger every day to protect our community.”
There were also tumultuous times under DuRee’s watch. In an interview Tuesday, DuRee pointed to tough budget years and conflicts with the city’s firefighters union.
“It was doom and gloom and morale was horrible,” he said.
In 2014, DuRee was criticized after a blog post on sail-world.com quoted him saying he and a team from the Long Beach Fire Department helped search through rubble at the World Trade Center after 9/11. DuRee denied making those statements and apologized, saying it was a miscommunication.
But now, with an improved relationship with the firefighters union and a smoother budget process this year, DuRee said he believes the department is in a healthy place as he exits.
“I’m proud of the organization we’ve become culturally,” DuRee said.
DuRee also guided the department during a recent tragedy when a 77-year-old gunman killed LBFD Capt David Rosa. When DuRee broke the news of Rosa’s death in front of a bank of news cameras on June 25, he began to cry. “It’s a tough day,” he said.
The city will be forever thankful to DuRee for his guidance of the department during that time, Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement Tuesday.
“As Fire Chief, he has led the department with integrity, and set policy that has reduced response times, modernized the department, and expanded the number of firefighters on our force,” Garcia said.
DuRee’s great-grandfather, Allen, also served as fire chief in Long Beach. His tenure lasted 13 years, a number DuRee said he hoped to match in an interview with the Press-Telegram six years ago.
DuRee said his great-grandfather kept a bell salvaged off of a fire engine after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake.
“It was passed down from generation to generation. I lost track of it,” DuRee told the newspaper. “Then, on the day I became chief, my dad got into my office. And when I walked in on my first day, the bell was sitting on my desk in the same spot that my great-grandfather had it on his desk. I had to close the door. I needed a moment. The last thing I wanted people to see on Day One was the chief blubbering in his office.”
DuRee said he chose to retire at 50—admittedly on the early side for a firefighter—to spend time with his family, including his high-school-aged daughter.
Tuesday afternoon, DuRee reminisced about his earlier days at the department. Working as a high-level administrator is different than spending your time fighting fires, he said.
“It’s one thing when you’re sitting on the back of a fire engine. … It’s fantastic,” he said.
But as chief, he explained, he had to be as committed to his job and his city as his loved ones.
“You kind of have to be able to tell your family, I’ve got to go,” he said.
During his tenure, DuRee was also a player on the regional stage as a president of the Los Angeles Area Fire Chiefs Association and the California Fire Chiefs Association. In retirement, DuRee plans to keep working for the California Fire Chiefs Association and Metro Chiefs Association, according to the city’s announcement.
The amount DuRee’s will receive as a pension hasn’t yet been calculated, according to Long Beach’s director of human resources.
Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor of the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @jeremiahdobruck on Twitter.
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