LUMBERTON — Former Lumberton Fire Chief Ronald Wayne Parker was praised Monday for helping to bring the fire department into the 21st century.
Parker, who served as chief from 1989 until his retirement on July 1, 2000, died Sunday at New Hanover Medical Center.
“He was the greatest leader in fire service that I’ve known in a long time, ” said Steven West, chief of the East Howellsville Volunteer Fire Department. “… He was a close friend of mine. He was an outstanding gentleman. If he told you something, you could put your money on it.”
Parker, 66, moved to Supply after retiring from the Lumberton Fire Department. According to the department’s current chief, Paul Ivey, Parker became a Lumberton firefighter in 1971, was promoted to lieutenant in 1979, and became deputy chief in 1984.
Before becoming chief in July 1989, Parker served for about five months as the city’s Public Safety Director, a position that had him overseeing the city’s Fire Department, Police Department and 911 center.
“He is the only person who has ever served as the head of all three departments,” Ivey said. “He became chief of the fire department when the City Council returned to having a single fire chief, police chief and 911 director.”
Mike Cox, who became chief after Parker, said that Parker “elevated” the training of firefighters and made sure they had the best and most modern equipment available. He said that Parker implemented the city’s Hazardous Materials Response Team and was one of the first, if not the first, Lumberton firefighters to attend the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md., to receive advanced leadership training.
“He was an advocate for being prepared for whatever could happen,” Cox said. “He brought our fire department into the 21st century.”
A popular leader among firefighters and department administration, Parker was all business when working a fire, Cox said.
“He was an autocratic type leader, and as he should, took control at the scene of an emergency. You knew he was chief,” Cox said. “But he was the kind of leader who when he could, liked to delegate authority to his supervisors. He empowered his supervisors to do a good job by giving them the authority to do their jobs.”
County Commissioner Tom Taylor, chief of the Allenton Volunteer Fire Department, described Parker as “one of the greatest men I have ever met.”
“He was a good family man and a good fire chief,” Taylor said. “I knew him my entire life. I always enjoyed being around him. We talked a lot about fire things and he taught me a lot.
“We have lost a true brother,” Taylor said. “Especially firefighters, rescue workers and the police are one big family.”
Ivey said that Parker’s love of fire service extended beyond just Lumberton. He was a member of the Robeson County Firemen’s Association; North Carolina Firemen’s Association; North Carolina Fire Chiefs Association; and the North Carolina Society of Fire Instructors.
Parker’s survivors include Terry W. Parker, a captain with the Lumberton Police Department.
A funeral will be held 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Floyd Memorial Chapel. A visitation will precede the service from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Parker’s complete obituary can be found on page 2A in today’s The Robesonian.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.