(03/25/14) - After decades of service, Grand Blanc Fire Chief Jim Harmes is officially calling it quits.
He says he's retiring at the end of June.
Harmes was 19 when he first suited up as a firefighter. Just before he turns 62, he'll put on his turnout gear for the last time.
"It's not as easy to get out of bed in the morning as it used to be," he said.
Harmes joined a volunteer department in his hometown while in college, and continued to serve while he taught school for 10 years.
Back then - things were a little different.
"The turnout gear today is so much safer than it was when I started. When I started, I had a rubber coat, which melted off my back, by the way," he said.
From his hometown, Harmes moved to Burton for four years before landing in Grand Blanc. This has been his home, his job and his passion for 25 years.
"Proudest accomplishment here is getting the service they really need and should expect," he said.
Firefighters say Harmes was instrumental in the success of a 10-year fire millage request.
"It's going to be a big loss for the community and the department," said Chad Kehn. "Getting the millage passed and here is huge for the community. I mean, the houses we've been able to save since we've had the full-timers here, is amazing."
On his watch, the department has grown to a staff of 40 paid on-call and five full-time firefighters.
Chief Harmes says he is going to miss them - and the feeling is mutual.
"He comes out, talks to us, and kind of is one of the guys," Kehn said. "Whoever comes in to fill his shoes, has some pretty big shoes to fill."
The commission that oversees the Grand Blanc and Grand Blanc Township service area has already posted Harmes' job. They hope to have it filled by the time he retires on June 27 - and heads for his new life in the Upper Peninsula.
"Without hesitation, I guess I can leave with a smile on my face," he said.
In 2006, Harmes also served as the President of the International Fire Chiefs Association. It has 15,000 members around the world.
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