WFD Assistant Chief retires after three decades

Pearsall says success is a ladder that cannot be climbed with your hands in your pockets
Updated: Jan. 5, 2021 at 7:59 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - There is a tradition at the Wilmington Fire Department that when you retire, your dress uniform is signed by your colleagues, turning it into a memento.

It’s unclear exactly how old the tradition is — decades, at least — but Tuesday, it was Assistant Chief Rick Pearsall’s turn.

Pearsall joined the department in November of 1990 after serving in the United States Marine Corps.

“Like a lot of folks, [I] was looking for something that could continue that camaraderie and brotherhood,” he said.

His first stop had been the Wilmington Police Department, but they were under a hiring freeze at the time.

More than thirty years later, he said it ended up being exactly what he needed.

“This was the next thing, and and I don’t regret a minute of it,” he said.

And those minutes were spent in a variety of ways, from working as part of the hazardous materials unit to serving as battalion chief.

That’s the role he was in during the major woods fire in Pine Valley during the drought of early 2012.

Pearsall says he still remembers that day.

“We all could kind of tell that it was gonna be something,” he said of hearing the first calls for the fire. “I got in my car, and I’m going down Oleander drive, and I got to about Eddie Romanelli’s and can see the cloud of smoke. And, and I was like, ‘We’re gonna be there all day. This is something. And yeah, we were there all day, and then some.”

Pearsall will be remembered for many things, including being the second African American person to be appointed Assistant Chief.

The first was Lorenzo Edge, who Pearsall said he considered a mentor.

“I would come in the hall and I would stop in and talk with him and sit down in his chair, and we’d just chit chat,” he said. “And I remember telling him that ‘One day I’d like to sit in your seat,’ and he was like, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.’ And I didn’t make it to that office, I made the one right next to him,” he said, laughing.

He said his philosophy during his career, including dealing with challenges, is summed up by a plaque that he said he needed to remember to take home: “Success is a ladder, it cannot be climbed with your hands in your pockets.”

“The biggest thing, I’ve always told people that are under my supervision is you know, ‘Come to work, come to work on time, do your job, don’t embarrass the department, and you won’t have any problems out of me. And for the most part, that has been the case.”

Those up and down the ladder at WFD said Pearsall’s leadership will be greatly missed.

“He’s a remarkable individual,” said Chief Buddy Martinette. “He’s very talented, and if there’s one thing that’s more impressive than his talent, that’s his integrity, and the fact that he’s a true gentleman and a real Christian man.”

Others agreed.

“Today the community is witnessing the retirement of a very hard-working, proud and dedicated employee of the city,” said Deputy Chief Steve Mason.

But he will perhaps be missed the most by those he worked so closely, including Battalion Chief Greg Fix, who started in the fire service at the same time as Pearsall.

“We’re going to miss him more than anybody can imagine,” he said. “He looks after the personnel, concerned about the well-being of all the personnel underneath him, and that’s 200 people at this point in his career, so of course his leadership and guidance is going to be missed greatly.”

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