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Veteran fire chief to retire

After 33 years with the Fire Department, Chief Bob Davidson announced his retirement Friday, saying it is time to let others guide the department's future.

"Why should I be making decisions on long-range plans and purchases and so forth when I'm not even going to be a part of that?" said Davidson, 58.

Davidson's retirement is effective July 26, the 33rd anniversary of his hiring. That is a Saturday, so Davidson said his last day on the job will be that Friday.

"We're losing a significant part of our department's history," said Assistant Chief Rowland Herald.

The department is losing another experienced manager next week, when Deputy Fire Chief David Kinsey retires Friday.

A 30-year employee, Kinsey was in charge of the training division and department safety. A familiar face at scenes of fires, accidents and disasters for years, Kinsey also was the department's public information officer.

Kinsey, 52, said Friday that he thought it was time to retire and do something else, although he has no other plans as yet.

"The city has been good to me," he said. "We accomplished a lot, and I'm just tired."

Davidson announced his retirement during a morning meeting Friday at the department.

Herald was among the senior managers who knew about the chief's announcement beforehand. As he looked around the room, he said, he saw disbelief on firefighters' faces.

"Shell-shocked would be a word that comes to mind," he said.

It will be the city manager's job to hire a new fire chief. But who that city manager will be isn't known. Betty Deptula retires in May, and the City Commission has not chosen her replacement.

Herald, the department's second in charge, is expected to be acting chief if a new chief isn't chosen by the time Davidson leaves.

Chief is a title Herald said he wouldn't mind.

"I have an interest in the job," said Herald, who has worked in the department for almost 18 years.

Davidson is paid about $75,000 as chief and commands a department of 170 employees.

Like Herald, Davidson was an assistant chief when he was picked in 1982 to succeed John Pitts as chief.

Davidson rose through the ranks at the department, starting his career as a firefighter. During his tenure, he said, he started the department's paramedic program.

City Commissioner Ed Hooper, a retired fire lieutenant, credits Davidson with helping to update the department's equipment.

When Hooper joined the department in 1972, he said, Davidson was his first supervisor.

As recently as this week, Hooper said, Davidson had asked him how he liked retirement. Hooper retired from the department last year. "I didn't know he was that serious," Hooper said.

Davidson said he had planned to retire in either July or January.

"I'm kind of excited about it, quite frankly," Davidson said.

He said his plans for retirement are undecided except for one thing. His son just bought a new boat.

"He's looking for a fishing buddy," Davidson said.

_ Times staff writer Jane Meinhardt contributed to this report.