After 21 years with the Smithfield Fire Department, the last 12 as chief, Patrick Harris will retire on July 1.
At the age of 51, Harris said he’s looking to pursue new opportunities rather than slow down once he hangs up his firefighting helmet.
“It’s time for a change and a new chapter in my life,” he said. “I’ll probably do some consulting work here and there; I’ve already had an offer come in to do some of that around the state.”
For certain, Harris said he will spend more time working with his wife at their family businesses: Smithfield Crossings Family Healthcare, Urgent Care of Smithfield and the Cardiology Center at Smithfield Crossings.
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Harris already serves as the chief operating and financial officer of those companies, and he said that has made for long hours to balance both jobs.
“I’ll be transitioning to where I’m working more during the day out there and less at night and weekends,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having more family time.”
It’s been a while since he’s had enough free time to pursue hobbies, Harris said, but he has always enjoyed shooting sporting clays, and he might try his hand at golf.
Harris began his firefighting career in 1986 with the N.C. Division of Forest Resources. In 1994, Fire Chief Norman Johnson hired Harris as Smithfield’s first fire inspector. Two years later, when the town created a fire marshal’s office, Harris became the first to fill that post as well. In that role, Harris handled fire inspections, investigations and public fire education. He gained additional duties in 1999 as assistant chief of emergency services.
When Johnson retired in 2003, Harris moved up to the top post as Smithfield’s fire and EMS chief and director of emergency services. After Johnston County took over EMS from the town in July 2012, Harris continued as fire chief.
Looking back on the department’s accomplishments during his tenure, Harris mentioned increasing the level of service, integrating new technology and saving residents money by improving the fire district’s insurance rating.
Over his career, Harris has earned several honors and recognitions, including receiving the 1995 Governor’s Award for Bravery and Heroism from Gov. Jim Hunt. In 2002, the North Carolina Jaycees named Harris one of state’s five most outstanding public servants.
Harris said he feels blessed, proud, fortunate and humbled to have served Smithfield through the fire service.
“There’s very few jobs that you can go home at the end of the day and say, ‘I helped save someone’s life today.’ So that’s probably been the most rewarding part of it,” he said.
“The teamwork, the camaraderie and the dedication to serving people is just phenomenal in the fire service, and in this department, it’s alive and well.”
Town Manager Paul Sabiston said Harris will not soon be forgotten because he helped develop Smithfield’s fire department to rank among North Carolina’s finest.
“I speak for many in saying that it has been a pleasure to work and serve with him,” Sabiston said in a statement.
Before Harris’ departure, the town will appoint an interim fire chief to oversee the department.
Harris said he will work to make sure the transition goes as seamlessly as possible.
“I’ll be happy to do anything I can to make the transition a good and positive experience.