Mike Brent lauded for 32 years as fire chief

Hundreds turn out for surprise celebration

By Tricia Johnson

It’s hard to catch a man like Fluvanna Fire Chief Mike Brent off guard – but Saturday, when hundreds of firefighters and community members came together to celebrate Brent’s retirement after 32 years of service as chief, he says he was “totally surprised.”

“I had no idea this was going to happen,” said Brent with a laugh.  Brent thought he was going to Fluvanna Middle School to see his grandson’s award-winning artwork.  Instead, he was greeted by a warm and enthusiastic crowd that cheered as he walked up the sidewalk lined with applauding firefighters and into a crowd of Fluvanna residents, friends, and family.

Newly elected Fluvanna County Fire Chief Dwayne Mayo hosted the ceremonies, during which chiefs from each of Fluvanna’s fire companies spoke about Brent and the impact he has had on them as individuals, and on the fire service to the community.  Speakers credited Brent’s dogged determination with bringing to Fluvanna modern fire stations and up-to-date equipment and apparatus.  Of particular note was his commitment and hard work that ensured the new emergency services radio system became a reality.

County Administrator Eric Dahl said Brent was “always rock-steady when it came to keeping his community safe.”  Dahl presented Brent with a resolution from the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors, recognizing Brent’s long service to the citizens of the county.  Supervisors Mozell Booker and Tony O’Brien were also present, along with Commissioner of the Revenue Mel Sheridan.

Fluvanna Chair of the Board of Supervisors Mike Sheridan – himself a volunteer firefighter – called Brent a “good friend,” and thanked him for his service.  Sheriff Eric Hess reminisced about his first emergency call in Fluvanna County with Brent, and presented him with a wooden plaque from the sheriff’s office that reads in part “Your commitment, dedication, and loyalty as a public servant to our citizens, and as a great friend and supporter of the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office, reflects great credit upon you, Fluvanna County, and all those you have served for the past three decades.”

Fork Union Fire Chief Chris Aley wanted to be sure Brent’s family was recognized as well. “Your support is priceless,” he said, “not only to Mike but to your entire community.”  Andrew Pullen, chief of the Kents Store Volunteer Fire Department, turned to Scripture in his remarks: “Mike continued to get up every day and raise his hand, saying, ‘Here am I, Lord, send me.’”

Pullen presented Brent with a resolution from the Virginia Senate sponsored by Senator Mark Peake and one from the U.S. House of Delegates sponsored by Congressman Denver Riggleman; a video of the congressman reading the resolution on the floor of the House was played to a rapt audience.  Senator Peake also sent a flag of Virginia that had flown over the state capitol building.

Richie Constantino, chief of the Lake Monticello Fire Department, and a retired fire chief from New York, credited Brent with helping him adjust to a different kind of firefighting.  “Mike taught me so much,” Constantino said. “He indoctrinated me into firefighting in Fluvanna – So different from my experience as a New York fire chief.” Constantino added that he is “proud and honored to have (Brent) as a friend.”

Fluvanna firefighters then surprised Brent yet again, this time with a retirement gift – a Henry “Golden Boy” Firefighter Tribute Edition lever action rifle. In lieu of the actual rifle, which he will receive later, Brent was given a framed sketch of the gun, done by his grandson Caleb – a riff on the story that brought Brent to the event in the first place.  Brent really did get to see his grandson’s artwork.

Brent says he won’t miss some of the pressures of his former position – the background stress of meetings, and constant awareness of possible risks to the community; but he relishes his new role as an everyday firefighter on his own terms.  “I drive a fire truck and that’s it – that’s my responsibility,” Brent said. “There are a lot of things around the fire house that need to be done,” he added, “but they are things I can do at my own leisure now.”  Brent wants to be certain that the young fire chiefs in the county know they can still rely on him for advice.  “I’ve offered to help any of the fire companies out,” he said.  “I hope they all know they can come to me.”

Brent finds great hope in the younger generation of chiefs that serve Fluvanna now.  “It’s a new generation,” Brent said.  “Josh and Chris, Dwayne and Andrew – these were our first junior firefighters, and now they are in leadership positions.” Thinking about these young leaders, Brent added, “I guess I have become the elder statesman.”

Brent says he is grateful for the support of his family – especially his wife Kathy and their children – who always seemed to understand that his work as a volunteer firefighter often had to come first.  “I remember one Christmas,” he said, “that we spent the entire day fighting a fire at a sawmill in Columbia. It was a Sunday, too, as I remember, which only made it worse for my family.” He added that he and his wife drove separately to events because he never knew when he was going to be called away.

Fluvanna’s fire service is still 100 percent volunteer, Brent pointed out, something that he takes great pride in.  “I think the fire and rescue volunteers are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things,” Brent said.  “And their gratification comes when a property owner or an accident victim says ‘thank you’ for what has been done to help them.”

Brent looked around the room filled with well-wishers and said the only word he could come up with to describe the ceremony was ‘overwhelming.’ “I wasn’t expecting it,” he said, and added, “I am so happy that all of my folks are here.”





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