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Cornelius News

Fire Chief Barbee to retire

Fire Chief Barbee to retire

June 15. Cornelius Fire Chief James Barbee will keep backing up his 350-foot driveway in Magnolia Estates after he retires. He’ll fight fires strictly as a volunteer. It’s in his blood: “I was put here to do this,” says Barbee, 61.

Backing into parking spots is what volunteer firefighters do so they can beat a path to the next emergency. Barbee’s been doing it since 1985.

The North Meck native is retiring from the Cornelius-Lemley Volunteer Fire Department after nearly two decades as an officer on the force, almost 10 as chief.

His wife Rebecca Sharp Barbee had a stroke last September and the chief is her principal caregiver, virtually a full-time job.

This man has gone toe to toe with commissioners during budget sessions over the years, and fought fires side by side with volunteers and paid staff. His department responded to 2,700 emergency calls last year.

There have been some notable fires on his watch: A series of arsons stunned the Glenridge community in 2011. A newly built mansion on Staysail Court in The Peninsula burned to the ground in 1998.

Chief Barbee retired in March from the Concord Fire Department, where he was a captain at Station 9. The North Meck High graduate also worked some 25 years at McGuire Nuclear Power Station.

The chief got a standing ovation at Monday night’s Town Board meeting. “What I tell the higher-ups in Concord is I worked there for the benefits, but my heart is here in Cornelius,” he said.

The chief will continue on the Cornelius-Lemley Fire Department as a volunteer. Chief Barbee will pass the torch to Neal Smith this summer.