Deputy Chief Mike Wilson spent his entire adult life at the Norman Fire Department. Now he’s entered a new chapter after retiring May 1.
Wilson started at the department 40 years ago at age 18 as a firefighter, later becoming a driver, captain, assistant chief and deputy chief.
“Certainly it’s a tremendous loss for our department and for our community, but at the same time, I’m really happy for him and glad he has made it to this point to getting to retire, and just glad he’s going to spend more time with his wife and family and travel and do a lot of his goals, ”NFD Fire Chief Travis King said.
Wilson said his family is ready for “opening another chapter in the book, life after the fire department.”
Wilson, 58, said his retirement plans include taking a Caribbean cruise with his wife, Glenda, and friends, traveling to Mexico and spending more time at his farm in Henryetta. He also has a daughter, Victoria, who is a teacher in Moore Public Schools.
He said he enjoys doing anything outdoors, including hunting, fishing, driving a four-wheeler and helping his neighbor during haying season in Henryetta.
He said his coworkers, many of whom are friends, were happy for him, but also extremely sad to see him go.
Wilson served through several notable calls, including major fires on Campus Corner in the mid 80s, at the Commons Apartments in Norman in 2011 and 2018, and at the University Greens apartments in 2014.
He also noted a call involving a man whose arm became pinned when he attempted to remove the bed of a dump truck. He said firefighters were on the scene a couple of hours and consulted with a surgeon because amputation was a possibility. However, crews were able to cut some metal and use a torch to free him, saving his arm.
Wilson also did building searches following the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Assistant Fire Chief Joel Chesser, who has been with NFD 21 years, recalled how several years ago, Wilson helped with a fast-moving grass fire east of town that was threatening structures. It was after Wilson’s shift had ended and he was in street clothes, but Chesser said Wilson grabbed a hose line from an engine on scene and helped protect a home.
“If it wouldn’t have been for him stepping in and assisting, we very well could have lost a home or some animals in that situation,” Chesser said. “It didn’t matter if he was in command of the fire. He didn’t mind stepping in if he saw something that needed to be done. ”
King, who has been with NFD for 26 years, remembered Wilson helping with one of Cleveland County’s largest grass fires in August 2012. Though Wilson was off duty, he came in to help.
“He came in on his own and found out where I was and got right into the command structure of that incident, and off we went,” he said. “He’s just that kind of guy.”
Wilson said he has seen many changes at NFD since 1982. When he first started, some firefighters rode on the tailboard of some fire trucks. Now, the department has canopy cabs with open backs, with firefighters facing backward, air conditioning, soundproofing and seatbelts for everyone.
Wilson said NFD had the same command staff from 1982 until King and he were promoted six years ago to administrative posts.
Since then, three battalion chiefs, an administrative assistant fire chief and a planning officer have been promoted, which has helped the department fulfill more duties over the city’s nine fire stations. The NFD has also created a bike team for medical needs during large-scale events like festivals and University of Oklahoma games.
Wilson said he always enjoyed his work at the fire department and it never felt like a job.
“It becomes a second family. It’s a very rewarding career. Whenever you get to help people and try to make situations into somewhat better situations for people, it’s pretty gratifying doing that, ”he said.
Wilson said NFD was in good shape when he first started in 1982, and it’s in incredible shape now.
“I’ve always kind of lived with ‘leave things better than you found them.’ It’s a very, very efficient and professional fire department, ”Wilson said, describing the leadership as second to none. “I would put our leadership up against any fire department in the state.”
Wilson and King said NFD received an Insurance Services Office fire rating of Class 1 last year, which signifies the department’s readiness and effectiveness.
King said out of 30,000 departments that were audited, only 300 have a Class 1 rating, and NFD has the premiere ISO rating of any fire department in Oklahoma due to fleet redesigns and building trucks with larger tanks.
King said NFD has a deep enough bench and plans on hiring a new deputy chief from within the department over the next few weeks. That could lead to more promotions. Fifteen new personnel are being added to the ranks.
“We’re going to continue to advance our service to the community and make it what I consider to be the leader in protective services in this region in the country,” King said, “But certainly we recognize there is no replacing someone of his caliber, but we have a staff that can pull together and certainly get the job done. ”
He said Wilson’s mark on NFD and the community “is something that will be visible for generations to come” and that Wilson has the record in modern history of the longest tenure at NFD.
“Not everybody can make it 25 to 30 years. The job can take a toll on you in many ways, ”King said. “His longevity is pretty amazing… He’ll be missed, but he’s not gone forever.”
Chesser said he tries to model himself after Wilson regarding demeanor on emergency scenes because Wilson brought a sense of calmness and direction and could look at complex situations and offer simple solutions.
“He’s going to be extremely hard to replace. When someone works at an organization and a city for 40 years, you don’t just lose a deputy chief, you lose the knowledge of the inner workings of the city, the history, where we came from and where we are at now. There’s a certain perspective and a certain amount of knowledge that can’t be replaced, ”Chesser said.
The city of Norman hosted Wilson’s retirement party April 29. During a luncheon before the party, Wilson’s coworkers gave him a Henry Rifle firefighter edition, which includes engravings. Wilson said he was floored and surprised by the gift.
Wilson’s focus has now shifted to spending time with his family.
“The world’s not about possessions. It’s about making memories, ”he said, adding that he plans on keeping touch with his coworkers and friends.