By Cassidy Pate, News Editor
Described as a man of genuine character, loyalty and comradery, Fire Chief Bruce Pritchard retired after 32 years of service, 29 of which were served in Belton, at 11:14 a.m. Thursday morning. A retirement reception and ceremony were held and attended by Chief Pritchard’s loved ones, past co-workers and friends to honor the impact he had on the Belton community on Thursday at Fire Station #2.
Belton Mayor Marion Grayson offered a heartfelt welcome address that set the tone for the reception.
“But I wanted to say thank you so much for being here and celebrating Bruce’s tenure here in the city of Belton; we are who we are because of Bruce,” Grayson said.
Following the presentation of colors by the Belton Honor Guard, the leading of the Pledge of Allegiance by Assistant Fire Chief Wesley Gilbreath and an introduction of Pritchard’s family by Pritchard, Gilbreath gave a few remarks on behalf of the man he worked alongside. From his description of Pritchard’s accomplishments, his journey from firefighter to fire chief, the two close calls during his time in the field and the legacy he will leave behind, the respect Gilbreath has for Pritchard was evident.
Having received his Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification in 1987, Pritchard then became a volunteer firefighter and attended paramedic school at Temple College. He was hired by the Belton Fire Department in March of 1990 and was the first to be sent to the Temple Fire Academy where he graduated with his basic fire certification in August of 1990.
He became shift captain in 1994, captain of special duties in 2004, assistant fire chief in 2004, served as interim fire chief in 2011 and 2012 and was appointed to fire chief in 2015.
In addition to holding every tank within the fire department, Pritchard has served as an instructor at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center -Temple, taught EMT and paramedic classes at Temple College and Texas A&M, as well as Emotional Trauma Life Support (ETLS) in Guanajuato, Mexico.
In the field, Pritchard responded to the 1997 Jarrell tornado, IH-35 bridge collapse in 2015, the Nolan Creek flood and offered Hurricane Wilma, Katrina, Ike, Harvey assistance and bought the Belton Fire Department’s first rescue boat and ladder truck.
At the age of 52, Gilbreath said Pritchard’s greatest accomplishment is being able to retire with his wife of 28 years, Katrina, his two daughters and three grandchildren.
City Manager Sam Listi presented Pritchard with the Crystal Award for his three decades of service for the city of Belton.
“Chief Pritchard, you leave the city of Belton for retirement with our genuine appreciation for your longtime commitment to public service; your love of public safety and the fire service itself and your affection for the firefighters you’ve served with for over three decades, each one of us extends our best wishes to you, Katrina and your extended family for what comes next,” Listi said.
During his tenure, Pritchard spearheaded the department in their efforts to achieve the “Best Practices” award from the Texas Fire Chief Association, which they accomplished in 2017, making Belton one of seven fire departments to achieve such reverence.
District 55 State Representative Hugh Shine offered Pritchard a challenge coin and a Texas flag that was flown over the Texas Capitol in Austin.
Bell County Judge David Blackburn read a proclamation naming October 31, 2019 Chief Bruce Pritchard Day, followed by Sam Kaiser from the Sons of the American Revolution presenting Pritchard with the Fire Safety Commendation Award.
On behalf of the Belton Fire Department Administration, Administrative Assistant at the Belton Fire Department Tami Bliven gave an emotional appreciation speech about her time working with Pritchard.
Continuing on a sentimental note, Pritchard’s wife provided a look into the honorable man he is outside of the department.
“Bruce came home every night or every evening from his fire department duties, and he never brought his job home with him,” Katrina Pritchard said.
Captain of the Belton Fire Department Brian Campbell presented Pritchard with a shotgun and case decorated with a firefighter uniform.
Fire Chief of the Harker Heights Fire Department Paul Sims also spoke on behalf of Pritchard’s friendship over the years.
“I know that sometimes as fire chiefs it’s a challenging position, but we also know that when we come into that position we know the expectations, and it helps to have friends and peers that we can reach out to visit with and bend an ear, bounce ideas off, that sort of thing, and I know that you’ve done a great job with the city of Belton, and you’ve been a friend to the city of Harker Heights for the many years that you’ve served the city of Belton as well, so I wanted to say ‘thank you, my friend,’ it’s an honor to call you my friend,” Sims said.
Former Belton Fire Chief Roy Harmon has been retired for 10 years but traveled 1,700 miles to be at Pritchard’s retirement reception, as was Harmon’s assistant fire chief before Harmon retired.
“In my opinion, Bruce is one of the most loyal person and employee that anybody could ever ask for,” Harmon said. “So, in my opinion, the city of Belton is losing a valuable asset for retirement.”
Following this, a few friends stepped to the microphone to elaborate on Pritchard’s friendship and work ethic, both within his various roles in the fire department and out.
“So, I’ll close by saying this: thank you, Bruce, for being a friend, advisor and mentor to me for the past 30 years; thank you for teaching me to not take myself so serious and how to love life,” LeRoy Vargas, former firefighter of the Temple Fire Department and friend of Pritchard, said.
Before heading into the ceremony portion of the morning, Pritchard gave a few words of gratitude.
“I appreciate the heck out of all of this, I appreciate everybody coming…” Pritchard said.
The crowd then moved outside to observe a ceremony in which the Belton Fire Department lined the sidewalk of the fire station, the sounds of a live bagpipe playing “Amazing Grace” filling the air, and Pritchard was handed an American flag in his last few moments as the fire chief of the Belton Fire Department.