Incoming Perry Fire Chief Lee Parker grew up in a small town in South Georgia and joined the Air Force when he was 17.
He had no idea back then he would become a career firefighter.
“I took the job the Air Force gave me, and I guess right now, I have to thank them for giving me that job,” said Parker, 49, a battalion chief for the Forsyth County Fire Department.
He assumes command of Perry fire and emergency services Oct. 31. His annual salary is $85,500.
“The fire service gives you a lot of opportunity to do different things — anything from firefighting to fire inspections to fire investigations,” Parker said. “You get to be with a lot of different people and you’re helping people.
“When you’re doing emergency response, it’s something different all the time. You never have the same day,” he said.
Parker grew up in Hortense, which is about 144 miles from Perry on the shortest route through Eastman, Hazelhurst and Alma.
He graduated from Brantley County High School in 1985. His dad is retired Navy.
Parker served as a firefighter and firefighting instructor for the Air Force on active duty from 1985 to 1995.
He served part time in the fire service in the Air Force Reserve for the next 20 years, while serving full time in civilian fire service jobs.
His reserve career included roles as a crew chief and assistant chief from 1995 to 2007 and then as a fire chief from 2007 to 2015.
Meanwhile, he served full time as a training instructor at the Georgia Fire Academy from 1995 to 1998. In 1998, Parker joined the Forsyth County Fire Department. He served as training chief until he was promoted to battalion chief in 2012.
As one of six battalion chiefs for the Forsyth County Fire Department, Parker supervised six lieutenants and 15 firefighters at six stations.
Parker was among 32 candidates who applied for Perry fire chief. That list was narrowed to 10. Of the 10, Parker was among six candidates brought in for interviews with the mayor and council. He was hired Tuesday.
“We had a slate of very qualified candidates; any one of whom could have done the job,” Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth said. “We’re very confident that Chief Parker will be able to lead the department as the fire chief and director of emergency services.”
Parker has a bachelor’s degree in fire science management. He also is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.
“He’s got significant experience and education. He’s a veteran,” Faircloth said. “He served as a fire chief in the reserves for a number of years.
“He’s a certified trainer and brings a lot of experience through both his jobs and his military service, as well as his education, to the city,” Faircloth said.
Parker said he thinks the Perry fire service is in good shape, and he hopes to motivate firefighters to a higher level. He has no immediate plans for any major changes but plans to spend the first 90 days getting to know people and department programs.
He and his wife, Pollyanna Parker, who grew up in Hoboken, have three adult children. The Parkers plan to make their home in Perry.
“We’re very pleased that he’s agreed to come serve the citizens of Perry,” Faircloth said.
Parker replaces Joel Gray, who resigned to be closer to his family in Clearwater, Florida, after serving 10 years as fire chief.