As a child, Robbie Pate wanted to join the fire department, and as a fire investigator, he has always wanted to be the fire marshal. Pate’s aspiration has become a reality recently for the Rocky Mount Fire Department, for which he has worked for 29 years.
“I set being the fire marshal as a goal 20 years ago when I came into this division,” Pate said. “This was what I wanted to do, so I worked toward that and all the classes I took and work I did were toward that goal. Now I’m actually getting to enjoy the fruits of all that labor.”
Pate stepped into the job in an interim role after former Fire Marshal Phillip Davis retired in fall 2011. Fire Chief Trey Mayo said Pate and two external candidates vied for the permanent position, which Pate was named to Jan. 5.
“We put them through a rigorous process, but at the end of the day, we gathered all the assessors up and asked them – based on the areas they assessed – who they would promote in their own departments,” Mayo said. “Everyone said Robbie Pate.”
Mayo said Pate has stepped up to the challenge of leading the Fire Marshal’s office which lost half its staff to retirement – Davis and Deputy Fire Marshal Weldon Beck. Pate said it hasn’t been easy, but firefighters in the operations division have assisted with mandatory inspections and Davis plans to come back on a part-time basis soon to help with inspections as well.
Pate said he hopes to hire additional deputy fire marshals by the summer while broadening the career ladder of the Fire Marshal’s Office, which handles building inspections, fire investigations, code enforcement and some public education.
“The overall mission of the fire department is to reduce the loss of life and property damage to fire, so the very essence of that reduction and we do that in three different ways: education, engineering and enforcement,” Pate said. “We have public education to teach people to do things in a safe manner. We review plans and make every effort to engineer fire safety into buildings. When things are not properly maintained or run down, then we have to use the third tool of enforcement to ensure buildings are safe for everyone.
“Our fire prevention efforts have been successful every day we go without a fire in Rocky Mount,” Pate said. “It is not to say that when we do have a fire we haven’t done a good job though because the three leading causes of fires are men, women and children. As long as we have the human element, we are going to have fires. We just want to do what we can to prevent them from happening.”
Pate’s goal is to increase the visibility of the Fire Marshal’s Office and its staff within the community. He said he is happy to have the opportunity to serve the community.
“I just want to do as good of a job as I can do,” he said. “This is what I’ve wanted to do for a long time and with hard work, determination and help from my friends and staff, I made it. Now I just have to hang on and see if I can continue to steer this office in a good direction.”