After 15 years leading the Hays Fire Department, Chief Gary Brown says he has “mixed emotions” about going to work today.

It will be his last day on the job before retirement.

“I’m just very grateful for it,” Brown said of his tenure with the city. “It’s been wonderful.”

His career in public safety spans more than three decades. After serving in the military, he began work at a fire station in Maryland. His career took him to Florida, Georgia and Colorado before he ultimately landed in Hays in 2002.

Brown highlighted several changes the department has seen during this tenure, including more rigorous training requirements and disaster preparedness, and the addition of an airport fire station to meet Federal Aviation Administration requirements.

“I would rather focus on what a great fire department this is,” he said. “When I came here, we were an (Insurance Service Office) protection class five, and now we’re a protection class two. The firefighters here work really hard, and we have the technical rescue team.”

During Brown’s career, the fire department partnered with EMS and the police department’s Special Situation Response Team.

There also has been a greater emphasis on regional collaboration, which also is a reflection of other local leaders, Brown said. The city and Ellis County fire departments last year launched a mutual aid agreement, and the city fire department also has worked closely with departments in Ellis and Victoria.

“There have been so many people here that have helped me to do what I needed to do as fire chief,” Brown said. “The city commission, the city manager, the other department heads I’ve worked with, the other fire chiefs in the county — the people here are just so professional and working with them has been just a pleasure.”

Deputy Fire Chief Ryan Hagans has been named as interim chief following Brown’s departure. Long-time fire captain Chris Stegman also retired this spring, and the changes have prompted several changes within the department. Lt. Aaron Dome was promoted to captain in his place, and Tim Detrixhe was promoted to lieutenant.

Brown was sent off with a standing ovation from the Hays City Commission at Thursday’s meeting.

Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty said Brown has been an “invaluable asset” to the city.

“He’s taken a department and dramatically increased the work output, the professionalism and just the overall value of the fire department,” Dougherty said. “We have an ISO rating of two, which puts us in the top three percent in the state of Kansas, and we do all that with one full-time station and a part-time station at the airport and a bunch of highly trained, dedicated firefighters.”

While Brown said he will miss his staff and colleagues, he is looking forward to having some downtime. His wife, Pam, also will retire from her job in the next few months, and the couple has booked an Alaskan cruise to celebrate.

“Obviously, I would like to give a lot of credit to my wife, Pam, who has been living with me for over 30 years as a fire chief. She has been so supportive and actually sacrificed a lot,” he said. “Like everybody who retires, we’re going to do all the things we didn’t have time to do when we were busy with our professional lives.”