Thirty years ago, Hal Carlson began what he thought would be a temporary job with the Aurora Fire Department.
On Thursday, Carlson will step down from his position with the department, where he has risen to serve as chief since 2009.
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Carlson, 60, said Tuesday he is retiring to help take care of his father, who is having health problems. He said now is the time because he has reached the maximum benefits he can earn from the firefighters pension system.
"Thanks for giving me the honor to lead one of the best fire departments in the country," Carlson said as those gathered at an Aurora City Council meeting recognized him for his service.
Carlson started working for the Aurora Fire Department because his pay as a commissioned sales representative for a manufacturing company dipped drastically during a recession in the late 1970s, he said.
"I had no firefighting experience," he said. "This was supposed to be a temporary job."
But he soon got a promotion, found himself vested in the pension system and decided to stay.
One dramatic fire from the beginning of his career and one from the end of his career stand out in Carlson's mind, along with the time he had to help an 800-pound man on an ambulance call.
A 1983 fire on Christmas Eve at a factory Carlson called "Stove Works" is memorable for its extreme cold -- a temperature of 26 degrees below zero, with a wind chill of 81 below, using a wind chill calculation method he said since has been changed. The tragic Claim Street apartment fire in May 2011 that killed three adults and three children also remains at the front of Carlson's mind.
Three internal candidates are being considered to succeed Carlson as fire chief. He said he'll give his input, but Mayor Tom Weisner and his staff will choose the department's next leader.
Weisner on Tuesday thanked Carlson for his service by reading a brief message inscribed on a plaque.
"The people of Aurora appreciate and thank you," Weisner said.