Richmond Hill Fire Chief Ralph Catlett is retiring, it was announced Tuesday night by Mayor Russ Carpenter.
Catlett, who joined the department in 2014, has 45 years as a firefighter in both civilian departments and while serving in the Air Force.
His retirement will be effective Jan. 1, but he’s already started taking vacation.
Catlett said he plans on spending more time with his family, which includes his wife Cindi and grandchildren, as well getting in some fishing, hunting and golf.
“It’s just time, after 45 years in the fire service, it’s time to spend more time with my family,” Catlett said after Tuesday’s council meeting, during which Division Chief David Williams presented Catlett with his chief’s helmet.
City councilwoman Jan Bass said the council “couldn’t have made a better choice" when its members appointed Catlett, who replaced the late Vernon Rushing, the department’s founder.
Carpenter, along with Bass and Tara Baraniak, and city manager Chris Lovell, praised Catlett’s leadership.
“You brought a professionalism and dedication to this city that was exemplary,” Carpenter said.
Baraniak wasn’t on the council when Catlett was appointed, but said the chief was the epitome of a professional and she’s sad to see him go. She thanked him for his service.
“The next person who takes your job is going to have big shoes to fill,” Baraniak said.
Catlett said he’s proudest of helping the city lower its ISO rating from 5 to just over 3 and RHFD’s work in the community, to include programs for kids, as well as working with the council during a time in which the city weathered two hurricanes.
Bass, who seemed about to break into tears, said Catlett’s willingness to work with other departments helped improve relationships between the city and county.
“You brought us together,” Bass said “Thank you very much.”
Police Chief Mitch Shores said Catlett helped him settle in when he first took over the police department in 2016.
“That man has been invaluable help to me,” Shores said. “If I had to describe him in one word, I would use class.”
Catlett said it’s been a good ride.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time here,” he said.
A successor wasn't named at Tuesday's meeting. The council met in executive session for a personnel matter, but Carpenter said no action would be taken Tuesday night.