Forged in flames

Mike DuRee retires from LB Fire chief position to spend time with loved ones, looks back on his career.

Long Beach Fire Department Chief Mike DuRee retired Oct. 5 from his position after serving the department and city for decades. DuRee said he his shifting his focus to his family during his retirement.

File photo

Long Beach Fire Department Chief Mike DuRee retired Oct. 5 from his position after serving the department and city for decades. DuRee said he his shifting his focus to his family during his retirement.

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Mike DuRee is no stranger to service. His time in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1988 to 1994 plays testament to his committing ways. But serving in the military wasn’t the only crucible in which DuRee constructed a lifetime of service to his community.

He has led the LBFD since 2012, but on Oct. 5, DuRee’s service to Long Beach as the fire chief will come to an end.

DuRee is retiring from the fire chief position to spend more time to travel with his wife, Aimee, and 15-year-old daughter, Claire.

He told the Signal Tribune in a phone interview the morning of Oct. 2 that there was no specific date or reason for when or why he decided to retire, but that he did discuss the idea many times with his family before proceeding with his choice.

“The pivotal moment, even though we’ve been talking about it for some time, was obviously after [LBFD Captain] Dave Rosa’s death,” DuRee said. “That was a tough thing for all of us, myself and my family included. I realized that you know, now is a good time. The department’s in good shape, the command staff is fantastic and everything is getting better.”

On Oct. 1, the City announced in a press release that the new LBFD fire chief will be Xavier Espino.

Courtesy City of LB
The City of Long Beach announced this week that Xavier Espino, pictured, will be the Long Beach Fire Department’s new fire chief.

Mayor Robert Garcia said that “Xavier Espino is going to be a great fire chief. He has served our community for the past 32 years, and his appointment is well-deserved. I look forward to working with Chief Espino to continue the great work that our fire department is doing in the years ahead.”

DuRee also shared his thoughts on Espino, saying that “he is going to do wonderful things for our community, and I look forward to supporting him as I can.”

DuRee served with the LBFD for 24 years. In 1994, DuRee stepped into the halls of Fire Station 7 for the first time– it was his first assignment fresh out of the academy.

He said he was proud to be able to dawn the same badge his father and grandfather did. His first call on the job was a medical-aid call.

“It was a relatively routine medical-aid call, and I had a huge smile on my face as we were rolling down the street,” DuRee said. “I never, ever took that for granted. I never forgot that feeling I had when I joined the fire department, and the pride that I had, and the opportunity I was given to serve this community.”

Looking back, DuRee said that one of his most cherished moments as the fire chief is grounded in tragedy.

Capt. Rosa was shot and killed on June 25 while responding to an explosion at a downtown senior apartment complex. His death sent shockwaves throughout the department and fire chief DuRee’s family.

File photo
Pictured is a June press conference, where Long Beach Fire Department Chief Mike DuRee gave remarks about the passing of Capt. David Rosa, who was killed in the line of duty while responding to an “explosion” call at a nursing home. DuRee said Rosa’s death represents a “dark” moment in Long Beach Fire Department history, but he also added that it was a unique moment for the city to unite together and mourn as one.

“That was obviously one of the darkest hours of Long Beach Fire, certainly in my career, and it really kind of shook every one of us to our core,” DuRee said. “But what I cherish the most about that, despite all the trauma, and tears and confusion about what happened, the men and women of this organization, both sworn and civilian, came together, we all threw our arms around each other and we got through that issue together.”

DuRee said the department’s response to that event is something he will always remember, and he said that it is indicative of the LBFD ability to muster up strength in dark times.

If given the chance to do something over again, DuRee said that he would have focused a lot more on giving prospect leader firefighters more tools to grow.

“One thing I could have done better, or been more effective in, is really developing a generation of leaders that are going to be emerging in the next 10, 15 or 20 years,” he said. “If I could go back and start over, right from the outset, we would have identified people who were young firefighters and given them more in the way of tools and knowledge to help them be effective fire-service leaders.”

DuRee also said that deep budget cuts also caused him and his commanding staff to make difficult decisions to keep the department functioning. He said he felt that the LBFD was able to serve the community well regardless of financial hardships.

“I was born and raised in Long Beach Fire,” he said. “I was born and raised in that family environment that was encompassing of not only your own immediate family in the home that you lived in but your own fire family, and that firehouse that you live for a third of your life as well.”

DuRee said he remembered growing up in Long Beach and visiting the homes of other firefighters throughout his childhood. His forefathers and their colleagues would work on fixing those homes together.

DuRee is a fifth-generation City employee. His great-great-grandfather was the superintendent of the recreation department that later became known as parks and recreation.

The first of the DuRee family to join the LBFD was Mike’s great-grandfather, Allen DuRee, in the early 1900s. He led the department from 1933 to 1946. Following Allen was Stan DuRee, Mike’s grandfather, who, after his time in the U.S. Navy during WWII served as the Long Beach Fire chief in 1946 and retired as a battalion chief in 1976.

After Stan, came Mike’s father, Rick DuRee, who was the fire chief for the LBFD in 1970 and retired in 2001 as a deputy chief. It wasn’t until 2012 that Mike became the head of the fire department.

DuRee said that as a department head of a city government, it becomes common to “marry” the city that he works for.

“The city becomes your second family,” he said. “When I stare at the ceiling at 3 am, and I’m worried about something, it’s because I’m worried about something in my city. I worry about something that could go wrong or something that did go wrong. I worry about the public’s safety.”

DuRee said he is comfortable passing on the position of leadership to the next generation and plans to focus his energy on just his family.

During his retirement, DuRee plans on staying active within the California Fire Chief’s Association. He is working on Emergency Medical Services Committees (EMS) and political advocacy for the association.

At the international level, DuRee is on the board of the International Association of Metropolitan Fire Chiefs, which consists of larger departments around the world. DuRee is the EMS section chair, and he will continue to work there.

“I think, for now, that’s plenty,” he said. “I just want to get reconnected with the family, take a little bit of a tactical pause, and we’ll see what the future brings.”