It's not every day that the city manager pulls a fire chief out of retirement. However, Pete Shelton returned to the Beaumont Fire and Rescue Services to continue his own legacy. He is the individual with a passion for his profession, a true talent for that career and a desire to serve his community.
When asked by the city manager to resume the fire chief position, Shelton told him that if the fire department and the city needed his help, he would be happy to provide a hand.
This Beaumont native has worked for the fire department since 1950. In 1966, Shelton began serving Beaumont as the assistant fire chief. After ten years, he accepted the role as fire chief. He held that position until his retirement in 1996. He has been back in service now for just a few months. Though he finds himself having fun with his recently resumed position, he faces challenges and a good deal of work.
"We're gradually doing some things," Shelton said. "They went - the city of Beaumont - to a study that fire fighters local funded about two to four years ago. And some of that has been put in, but I am going to continue to make those improvements. As well, a consultant came in and steered the city in the right direction for an ISO study, and we are going to be working on that. I don't think we are ready right now for that ISO study, but there is a lot to be done."
Dating back to Shelton's earlier days in Beaumont, he helped implement some great things for the city.
Beaumont, TX, serves as the home to many refining and petrochemical facilities and houses the Beaumont Emergency Services Training Complex. Since the early 1960's, the training facility has developed effective instruction for municipal and industrial firefighters who want to improve as fire professionals.
Pete Shelton is the man who helped make BEST Complex transform from a concept to a reality.
"Well, I didn't exactly start it," Shelton said. "I was involved in it. But, I attended [Texas] A&M [fire school] for a number of years, and we saw a need for it."
BEST Complex training facility was established off Interstate 10, which goes right through the city.
"So, where we started out at the fire field, there was an old landfill and what we initially had was structural fires, portable fire extinguishers and pit fires," Shelton said. "But it's just grown over the years. And it was really a fine school. But, I am pretty proud of what BEST is doing. The field looks nice."
The fire field at BEST Complex offers formal training that includes practice drills to prepare firefighters for real-life situations.
Shelton said, "Really and truly, the firefighters of the city of Beaumont built that facility with donations from industry, as well, cutting grass and doing all the things necessary - welding and piping it. They've really done a fabulous job. They deserve a lot of credit for it. I was just kind of pointing them in the direction that we wanted to go.
When the facility really started booming around 1965, it focused on training municipal firefighters. A few years later it moved to industrial fire training.
"In 1968, we kicked off our first industrial fire training school," Shelton said. "And then LIT [Lamar Institute of Technology] picked it up through Lamar [University]. They were doing training for brigades and plants on a daily basis. But, I retired in '96 and they remained a few years and the city decided it would be best to maybe get out of it. Change the program.
Get out of training." But the municipal firefighters needed to continue using BEST Complex, as well. Shelton said, "We needed a drill tower, and our folks needed training. But, we have a great relationship with industry through the Sabine- Neches Chiefs Association. And I've been president of the Sabine-Neches Chiefs and we've done some projects over the years. There was a need for it and really it was very profitable for us." Since the need existed, BEST has kept the doors open to train municipal and industrial firefighters. Plus, over the years the training facility has helped the Beaumont Fire Department and the Fire Museum of Texas, which is also located in Beaumont.
"We were able to buy the opticom system through revenue that we generated through this training facility," Shelton said. "The emitter turns to green and gives the emergency vehicles the right-of-way. We also put some money in the fire museum."
BEST Complex will aid the local economy and continue to serve as a fundamental training center for the municipalities and industrial fire facilities throughout the southeast Texas region. With the number of ports and cities that make up the area, there are many fire professionals continually needing a service that trains them to fight the various types of fires that they might encounter.
And Pete Shelton will continue his profession in the fire field as longas he feels called to duty.
"I grew up in the fire service," Shelton said. "My dad was a captain that later retired as a district chief. I have a son who's a district chief in the fire department. It's just a labor of love. It's almost like a hobby to me. I love my job. I always look forward to going to work. I never had to kick myself to go to work like some people might do. It was enjoyable. I used to tell people when I retired for those years, I didn't miss the political side and the other types of foolishness that you every once in a while have to go through. But I missed the people. Missed the firefighters that I work with, so I'm glad to be back."
Shelton was recognized by Industrial Fire World during the 2007 Emergency Responder Conference with the Joe Gross Award. This award recognizes individuals who initiate products, services or technology that have lasting impact on the industrial fire world.