Retiring Newton County Fire Chief Mike Satterfield stands in front of No Greter Love by Ron D. Cianni in the lobby of their office space.
COVINGTON -- Newton County Fire Service Chief Mike Satterfield is hanging up his fire helmet. Satterfield will retire at the end of the week after more than five years of as chief in Newton County, although he has worked 38 years in fire service.
"I had a couple of wise gentlemen who were my mentors over the years and they talked about retirement. They said you'll wake up one day and know it's time to retire and I did," Satterfield said. "It's a frantic pace most of the time. You get an adrenaline rush with a lot of these emergencies, and I think after awhile the body can only handle so much of that."
Satterfield hails from Hall County where he spent 31 years as a firefighter, 21 of those years as chief.
"I've been in constant contact with someone ... I've had a pager, cell phone, radio or some type of device with me at all times to be notified of emergencies," he said, adding that while he worked for Hall County he also served as Emergency Management Agency director and Emergency Medical Service director, overseeing more than 300 employees.
He said he's faced challenges in both Hall and Newton, but none more daunting that in the years 1982 to 1983 and in the past three years when tough economic times dictated scarcity of resources.
"It's easy to manage when you have all the resources you need, but it's tough to manage when you have your resources taken away, no new resources and existing resources are moved," he observed. "You have to really think outside the box and do some things that are not traditional, not standard and accepted ways we do business in emergency service. We've had some of that."
He gave examples of moving staff and equipment to serve dual and sometimes triple purposes; pitching in to keep the administrative end of the business running smoothly; and even cleaning their own offices.
"We clean our own offices and I'm not saying that in a negative way. We don't mind doing that at all," he said. "You find out when things get tough people come to the forefront and do what they have to do to make the organization successful. I'm blessed and Newton County is blessed to have people here that have that kind of attitude."
He cited several accomplishments and improvements for the fire service since he has been chief which he said are rewarding to him.
"We've done some things that the commission (Newton County Board of Commissioners) has allowed us to do and supported us with the resources to do it," he said.
Among those he named the NCFS Capital Improvement Plan which allowed the addition of Fire Station 7 on Brown Bridge Road and the projected construction of three new fire stations, including one that will replace the North Newton Volunteer Fire Station; the introduction of a promotional matrix that is a step-by-step guideline of everything a firefighter needs to do in the way of training and education to be promoted; giving incentives to personnel to become certified EMTs which has resulted in going from having five EMTs on staff to nearly 60; a fire safety education program, mutual aid and automatic aid agreements with the city of covington, as well as an agreement between the two agencies to build a joint fire training center and more.
"We couldn't have done any of that without the support from the commission and the community," he said.
Satterfield remembers the first fire he ever fought, which turned out to be the weekend after he completed his training, but before he actually reported for duty. His wife and daughter were out of town.
"So, on a Saturday night, what's a guy to do except go to the fire station," he said. "There were two people on duty and I was visiting the station where I was going to report to duty and, wouldn't you know, a severe thunderstorm came through and lightning hit a house and caught it on fire."
A 19-year-old Satterfield responded with the two others on duty.
" ... I entered the house and the fire was in the attic and in a stairwell. I knocked the fire down and put it out," he recalled. "That was my first fire. It really just put an enthusiasm in me to know I actually saved this home, this property. It was a good job and I got a lot of accolades."
Satterfield also recalled another incident two or three years later when he delivered the first baby for the department. He said he and his wife had talked about having another baby and asked their daughter if she'd like to have a baby sister or brother.
"She was delighted and the morning after I delivered the baby I called home to say I'd be late as I was still at the hospital and I had delivered a baby," he said, adding that his wife had relayed the message to the 4 or 5-year-old daughter, telling her her father had delivered a baby.
"Well, when I got home, my daughter comes out the front door running wide open to my truck, jumps in the truck and comes past me at the steering wheel and looks all around the truck and says. 'Where's it at? Where's it at?'" he remembered fondly. "She thought that was how you delivered babies. Dad goes to work and delivers it and brings it home."
He said in the five-plus years he's been with Newton County he thinks the county has been "overly blessed" in that there have been no major catastrophies causing large losses of life and property.
"We've had certainly big tragedies for the people involved and I understand that ... but we've ben very fortunate. We've come close a few times. We've had a couple of tornadoes that really could have done a lot of damage, and they did for the people who were affected, but they weren't widespread," Satterfield said. "The flood we had was very interesting. We took a boat and removed people from their homes."
And even in the midst of that situation, Satterfield said there were glimpses of humor as the boats ferried homeowners to safety.
"One individual, in particular, we removed him, his dog and his goats. When we let the goats out and they were trying to scatter, we had some firemen who were trying to hem them up. That brought a little humor to a very serious situation."
Satterfield said he will miss working with the people of the Newton County Fire Service and the camaraderie of his staff.
"It's been a pleasure to work with people who I think is the largest group of people who give to the community and that's firemen," he said. "Our firefighters are involved in the community widespread. They're coaches, scout leaders, active in their church and it's been a pleasure to work with people like that. When they see someone down and can't help themselves, whatever they've got, those people have," he said.
Satterfield and his wife, Fay, will continue to live in Newton County after his retirement. The couple has two grown daughters and two grandsons. He will continue working from home in a field related to the fire service and has already planned a fishing trip with his eldest grandson.
A public reception will be held in Chief Satterfield's honor at NCFS headquarters at 4136-A U.S. Highway 278 (between Pizza Hut and McDonald's) Friday from 1 to 2:30 p.m.