Fire chief to take early retirement

Fire Chief Mike Varnell

Mike Varnell


Staff Writer

Friday, February 1, 2019

Longtime Rocky Mount Fire Chief Mike Varnell handed in his retirement papers Thursday afternoon.

An Edgecombe County native, Varnell became fire chief in 2015 after 26 years with the department. He's retiring earlier than expected, hanging up his hat in April rather than the end of the year.

"I was waiting on the city manager to make it public," Varnell said.

The Telegram learned of Varnell's decision late Thursday from a source within City Hall.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said she is thankful for Varnell's dedicated and unwavering service to the city.

"He was pivotal in the department's accreditation and in many other successes," Small-Toney said. "He should be proud of his role as a true leader of the Rocky Mount Fire Department. He will be missed."

Assistant Fire Chief Ronnie Raper will serve as interim fire chief.

Under Varnell's leadership last summer, the city fire department again for the fourth five-year term won international accreditation, which keeps low insurance rates for city property owners.

Diversity is a big part of part of accreditation. Rocky Mount at 23 percent diversity is second in the state. The national diversity average in fire departments is 8.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Just 250 agencies worldwide have earned the coveted status with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International and the Center for Public Safety Excellence.

“I've been very blessed to have such a good career here in Rocky Mount,” Varnell said during a recent public meeting.

Varnell in July 2017 earned his third designation of Chief Fire Officer from the Commission on Professional Credentialing within the Center for Public Safety Excellence.

A possible replacement for Varnell is Corey Mercer, a former Rocky Mount battalion chief and member of Omega Psi Phi. He's currently fire chief in Elizabeth City.