Retiring Rocky Mount fire chief rose through the ranks

Rocky Mount Fire Chief J. Keith Harris announced Friday that he will retire in April after a 31-year career with the department in which he rose from the ranks.

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ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. — Rocky Mount Fire Chief J. Keith Harris announced Friday that he will retire in April after a 31-year-long career with the department.

"Harris has provided invaluable leadership for the Rocky Mount Fire Department, not only during his tenure as fire chief, but throughout his career,” said City Manager Stephen W. Raper. “Chief Harris has truly exemplified our mission of advancing community well-being, safety and quality of life by delivering excellent municipal services.”

Harris joined the department in November 1978 as firefighter and EMT. He was promoted to an assistant supervisor in 1983, then to fire captain in 1986. He next served as a district chief and assistant fire chief before being appointed to the top position in March 2007.

“My career has been an atypical rise through the ranks to fire chief,” stated Harris. “The exposure that I gained to each of the divisions of the fire department helped me develop a greater awareness and appreciation for the various roles of this profession.”

Harris led Rocky Mount's recovery team after the city was flooded by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. His efforts to relocate 850 families and clear 400 acres in flood-prone areas were then FEMA's largest flood mitigation program.

"I count it as one of my greatest personal honors to have contributed to those efforts," said Harris, who also helped recovery efforts after hurricanes Isabel, Ivan, Jean, Charley and Katrina.

As chief, Harris worked to strengthen aid agreements with fire and rescue departments in Nash and Edgecombe counties.

Under his leadership, the Rocky Mount Fire Department earned a ranking as an ISO Class 2 agency, placing it in the top half-percent of departments in the state. The department also renewed its International Fire Service accreditation, which only 134 departments worldwide have.

Harris was named Rocky Mount Jaycees Outstanding Young Firefighter in 1998 and was awarded the American Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action for saving a person's life in 1983.

A native of Rocky Mount, Harris and his wife Tricia attend the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rocky Mount. He serves in leadership positions with the United Way and American Red Cross.

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