Denton Fire Battalion Chief Tommie Nations said goodbye to close friends and co-workers of 37 years at a retirement ceremony held in his honor Wednesday afternoon.
A proper farewell to one of the fire department’s “hardest and most professional workers” took place at the Center for the Visual Arts, complete with a color guard salute while Nations’ 3-year-old grandson, Gavin, jumped into his grandpa’s arms.
Nations recalled advice he once got from a City Council member.
“Dalton Gregory told me to retire when I still love the job and love the people I work with,” Nations said. “I did just that.”
Ken Gold, who started with the Denton Fire Department in 1976, the same year as Nations, isn’t retiring yet.
“I tried to get him to, but he wouldn’t!” Nations said during a casual interview Friday.
Nations is a fantastic friend and co-worker, Gold said. “He was by far my closest friend at the fire department,” he said.
Nations was born and raised in Lewisville, where his father, Tommie Nations Sr., was the volunteer chief with the Lewisville Fire Department for more than 25 years. But it wasn’t until he was at a New Year’s party decades ago that he realized being a firefighter might be right for him.
“If I wasn’t a fireman, I would have been a builder. I love constructing things,” he said. “The night of the party, someone told me to go take the test since Denton was hiring. I did and the rest is history, so to speak.”
Nations worked as a fire department driver from 1970 to 1973, but says his career didn’t “officially” start in his mind until he was hired the second time in 1976.
From there, Nations worked his way up the ladder, attending schools and achieving certifications along the way. He was promoted to captain in 1980 and obtained battalion chief rank in 1996, when a position opened up under Fire Chief Ross Chadwick.
Nations even earned a business degree from the University of North Texas in 1999.
His determination and work ethic has been noticed by his colleagues, many of whom called him one of the “hardest and most professional workers.”
Fellow Battalion Chief Brad Lahart told ceremony attendees a story about how playing games isn’t the way to get ahead.
“When I came to work here, we played games if it was after 5 o’clock … pool, pingpong … all of them,” Lahart said.
“When it was nice out, he would play marathon games of volleyball, sometimes lasting until midnight. About two years in, Tommie stops showing up to play volleyball,” Lahart said. “When I asked where he was, I heard there was a promotion coming up and Tommie was studying.”
Lahart said he admired Nations’ dedication because when the promotion came up, Nations was No. 1 in line.
“That same devotion has worked for me anytime I applied it,” Lahart said.
Highlights from Nations’ career include delivering a baby at his first and only emergency childbirth.
“It was in the 1980s and I even cut the cord and signed the birth certificate,” he said.
He served as a strike leader during 2011’s devastating fires in Possum Kingdom and Bastrop State Park.
“I learned so much from the Texas and National Forestry Service,” he said. “They taught me things about rural fire when I was teaching them about urban fire. The massive pine trees out there [in Bastrop] were burning from the inside out and falling over. … It was hard work, but I was amazed at how some of those guys kept the fire off the 100-year-old historical landmarks in the forest, but they did.”
At 65, Nations feels it’s time to move on.
“They need someone to fill the position with more energy than I have now, and it’s time I start spending more time with my family,” he said.
Nations and his wife, Kathy, have been married for six years. He has a daughter and son-in-law, Sarah and Josh DeLaMere, a grandson, Gavin, and two stepchildren, Chloe and Riley Pritchett. His older sister, Georgia Williams, lives in Lewisville.
While Nations enjoys time with his family, the department will have big boots to fill.
“He was super dedicated to his job,” Chadwick said. “It will be hard to replace him — he always showed up and was willing and able to go above and beyond. It’s not every day you come across someone that committed.”
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.