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City losing long-time public servant: Harris retiring from city after 27 years
Rowlett Fire Chief George Harris is retiring after 27 years of public service in Rowlett. Harris has spent the past three and a half years serving as fire chief. His retirement is effective Oct. 31 and a permanent replacement has not been selected.
"This is when I had always planned to retire. I just turned 65 and that was always my target to retire at 65," Harris said. "My wife and I want to do some traveling. I have also developed a hobby making custom knives and I plan to continue to do that and work on my golf game as well."
Harris has spent his entire career in public service. His first 19 years at was at Bell Systems serving customers across the southern United States and establishing a strong foundation for quality customer care, and then segueing into in law enforcement as a deputy Sherriff with the Rockwall County Sherriff's Department 1978.
Harris made the switch from law enforcement to the fire service in 1985 when he was hired as a firefighter/EMT by the city of Rowlett. At that time the city had only 14 firefighters, having just switched from a volunteer organization to an official department in 1979.
"I have watched the growth of the city from a small sleepy eastern Dallas city to a city of 56,000 people. It has been a huge transition from what it was to what it is now," Harris said. "I watched the fire department go from a volunteer department to a paid department with 14 firefighters. We started with one station downtown and have grown into one of the premiere fire services in Texas."
Harris saw a need within the fire department and filled it, obtaining his arson investigator license in 1987 and becoming the city's first fire investigator. In 1990 he was promoted to fire marshal, the city's first. He maintained that role for 13 years. During this time, Harris developed fire codes and implemented fire inspections, construction plan reviews and brought animal control into the fire marshal's office.
Harris accepted a position as assistant city manager in 2003 and then filled in as interim city manager for six months in 2005 when the city manager position was vacant.
Harris went after and was awarded the position of fire chief / emergency management coordinator in 2008, but later that year was again asked serve as interim city manager. He returned to the fire department, and the position of fire chief / emergency management coordinator, which he feels was the most rewarding of his long career in public service, in 2009 where he has remained.
"While a community is entrusted in our care, we have a responsibility and duty as public servants to leave it better than we found it", said Lynda Humble, city manager. "There is absolutely no doubt that George Harris is leaving the city of Rowlett and all of us who are a part of this organization better than he found us. George has had an unyielding passion for this city, our organization, and our citizens during his 27 years of service. We will miss George and his institutional knowledge of the community, but wish him the very best in retirement."
During Harris' tenure he has seen the department grow from 14 firefighters to a department of 77 employees. He was part of a committee responsible for the construction of three additional fire stations, bringing the total to four and ensuring citizens were quickly accessible to fire rescue personnel in all four quadrants of the city.
"It has been a privilege to be a part of Rowlett Fire Rescue and work with the finest in our profession," Harris said. "Retiring will be bittersweet because of my long association with the city of Rowlett but we are looking forward to a new chapter in our life with more time for family and travel."
Harris has received many awards and accolades including city of Rowlett Employee of the Year in1988, the Rowlett Fire Department Chief's Award in 1999, the Rowlett Chamber of Commerce Biff Bettencourt Community Service Award in 2007 and the Rowlett Chamber of Commerce Big R Pacesetter Award in 2012.
To better serve the public, he is a member of several professional and community organizations including the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Dallas County Fire Chiefs, Association North Texas Fire Chiefs, Association Society of Executive Fire Officers, Texas Fire Marshal's Association, North Texas Fire Investigators Association, Fire Marshal's Association of North America, International Association of Arson Investigators, National Fire Protection Association, Metroplex Fire Safety Educators Association and he is a charter member of the Rowlett Historical Society.
"With an amazing career dedicated to the safety and wellbeing of the Rowlett community, chief Harris is an inspiration to us all," said Todd Gottel, Rowlett Mayor. "His leadership, energy, and passion will be greatly missed."
Harris said of all the things he has seen and done in his professional career being a Rowlett firefighter is by far his most memorable experience.
"It was really a life changing experience for me," Harris said.