Monday marked the end of an era as Pete Nelms, division chief and emergency management director with Fayette County Department of Fire and Emergency Services, has retired after more than 26 years with the department.
Nelms was also the department’s public information officer until his retirement.
A reception was held in Nelms’ honor at the Fayette County Public Library on Friday. A room full of friends, family, and colleagues showed up, and kept showing up, to wish him well.
Monday was Nelms’ last official day on the job.
An Atlanta native, Nelms had been a ramp worker with Eastern Airlines in Atlanta for a few years before moving to Fayette in 1983. When Eastern employees went on strike in early 1989, Nelms was approached by the late Fayette County Fire Chief Larry Smith about joining his department.
“He asked me if I had ever considered becoming a firefighter,” Nelms remembers. “I had not.”
But then he did.
Nelms went to firefighter school, EMT school, and paramedic school, and eventually he became a lieutenant. By early 1995, he was named emergency management coordinator for Fayette County and public information officer for his department.
Nelms was promoted to division chief and emergency management director in April 2013.
During his time with Fayette County, Nelms’ role in preparing the community for emergencies has broadened from mostly thinking about natural disasters such as severe storms and flooding to having to also consider situations that arise from terrorism and active shooter scenarios.
“The events of 9/11 changed the whole scape of what we’re about,” Nelms says. “Before then, we were about planning for natural events. We were thrust into planning for terrorism.
“And active shooters, that’s a whole other deal,” Nelms says. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
During Nelms’ tenure, it would be natural disasters that actually tested his training, though he is quick to note that emergency preparedness and response is far from being a one-man show.
“It takes a great deal of partnership and working together,” Nelms says. “You’ve got to have everybody on your team pulling together.”
He recalls the big ice storm a few years ago when many emergency services personnel worked 41 hours straight. “That was not just me. Everybody did that,” he says.
Nelms, whose wife Carol retired from the State of Georgia not long ago, says it is time for him to slow down a bit and spend more time with his family, including his young grandson.
“It’s time to go. I’m going on my own free will. It’s time to see new things and face new challenges, and enjoy those special moments.
“It’s been fun,” Nelms says. “It’s been interesting.”
Nelms says he and his wife plan to stay in Fayette County.
To whomever replaces him, Nelms says, “You’ll never be caught up, and there will always be something around the corner. This job has had its ups and downs, but mostly ups. We have an excellent department and an excellent county.”