FARMINGTON – After almost 24 years serving the community as a member of the Farmington Fire Department, Chief David Burke will retire at the end of March.
Burke started working at the Farmington Fire Department in 1997 after working a few years in the Durango area. He has been chief of the Farmington department for a little more than three years.
Burke said he was retiring so he could focus on some other areas in his life.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished the goals that I set out to accomplish here,” Burke said. “I’m going to focus on some more personal components and my marriage and some travel opportunities coming up.”
Burke said one of his goals that he met had to do with a COVID-19 task force and the homeless.
“COVID was a very challenging year for everybody,” he said. “This is such an amazing community, all the resources and the people who came together to help the community transition through that challenging time, I felt that being part of that group, was one of the best experiences of my career – of my life. And I feel we were very successful in that.”
City Manager Rob Mayes said in a statement that he thanked Burke for his “tireless effort” during the pandemic.
“For the past 12 months, Chief Burke has been assiduous in leading our internal COVID task force while also juggling his regular duties,” Mayes said. “We will miss having him as part of our leadership team but wish him well on the next chapter of his life.”
The next chapter, Burke said, after traveling would be to find some other hurdle to overcome.
“At this point, with some travel, some reflection internally, and some time with my loved ones, I’d love to facilitate some additional challenges down the road,” he said. “I don’t think I’m done working. I think I need to find something to do to keep my hands busy.”
Burke also does some federal work on the side for disaster response, where he said he hadn’t been able to be as active as he wanted, but now he will be able to be more involved.
Looking back over his calls through the years, Burke said any first responder will remember certain calls their whole lives.
One call he could never forget involved a child.
“I’ve seen the child several times since that incident, and it does the heart good to see them recover and run around being a child, or, well, at this point, an adult,” he said.
“The best part about this job, I think, is looking at problems from a different perspective,” Burke said. “You’re elbow deep in the ashes or whatever the scenario is. At this point in my career and over the last several years, I’ve been able to look at it from a different angle and more ‘how can we serve the community as a whole’ rather than just respond to specific incidents.”
In the last year, Burke said the department worked with the Farmington Police Department, the Department of Health and Presbyterian Medical Services along with others to bring awareness and create a homeless shelter to help serve the community.
Burke conducted research and he said he found the Farmington area was more susceptible to community spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Every challenge creates opportunity, so having the challenges associated with COVID or any part of public safety, we always look at our resources to see how we can better serve the community and be better prepared for large-scale events,” Burke said.
Robert Sterrett, who has worked in the department for the last 15 years and has worked closely with Burke over the last three years, will become the interim chief.
“At every level in the organization, there’s some sort of mentorship, whether you’re a new fireman being mentored by a senior fireman,” Sterrett said. “So the last three years have been amazing to have Chief Burke as a mentor and guide me through some of the challenges and hurdles of administration.”
Sterrett said Burke helped him understand people better and boost confidence in his intuition.
“I know I will always have his support, and I know that if I ever need anything, he will help me, but it’s almost like having a security when he’s here,” Sterrett said.”
Several years ago during Christmastime, a home burned down, and Burke said the captain at that responding fire station and his crew went above and beyond.
“That crew stepped up out of their own pockets, and bought them presents and food,” he said. “Those kinds of things are what stick.”
Burke said he would miss the resilience and excellence of the FFD team.
“The employees, the firefighters, engineers and officers here are an amazing group of people, and they always look for opportunities to exceed expectations. And that’s going to be the hardest thing,” said Burke, choking up. “That will be what I miss the most.”