Not often are careers already in the making before a baby is even born. But one could say that is exactly the ‘career by design’ experienced by Charlotte Fire Department Chief Kevin Fullerton. Following in his father, Cal Fullerton’s footsteps, Kevin Fullerton joined the CFD as a volunteer fireman in June of 1973. By December of that same year, he was named Department Captain, promoting to Assistant Fire Chief in 1984, followed by CFD Chief in 1988.
With a long, and very impressive list of education, training, and certifications under his utility belt, Chief Fullerton has responded to over 1,000 structure fires, over 200 major commercial industrial fires, and, after the Snorkel (Aerial Bucket Truck) was purchased in 1977, he has responded and operated the snorkel in all surrounding communities on over 40 structure fires. Chief Fullerton has had four life-threatening incidences during his career, all of which he was able to perform a self-extraction. These included being caught in an attic, falling through a ceiling, bailing out of a second story window and, in one horrendous situation actually falling to the basement of the burning structure.
In the 1980’s, when Charlotte did not own a hurst tool, they were unable to extract someone trapped in a car following a fatal accident. Since then, the CFD and the city administration secured the hurst tool, which Chief Fullerton credits for saving the lives of hundreds of people – which is exactly why he chose the same profession as his father. Cal Fullerton was the Charlotte Fire Chief from 1955 until Kevin took over in April of 1988.
As a child, Kevin knew he wanted to be a Fireman. Chief Kevin Fullerton said, “Growing up I always knew I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. I knew I wanted to help people, save lives and make a difference.” Kevin valued every moment he spent with his dad, and everything he taught him.
Chief Kevin Fullerton is equally admired by his children. “My dad is my hero. He is truly the hardest working man. He has always been there for my brother and I, he is the best role model and the best father. I am so proud and thankful to be his daughter. His three little grandchildren worship the ground he walks on. We are all so blessed,” exclaimed daughter Sonny Grendel.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of my life is that I have been able to work closely for many years with my father on a daily basis,” said son Tyger Fullerton. “In my experience, it is not common to hear of these situations, this opportunity has provided me with knowledge and memories that words cannot describe. Let’s also mention that when your father is the boss, you will most likely be the person who gets yelled at to set the example for everyone else, but regardless, you most likely will never forget again.”
After 40-plus years serving The Charlotte Fire and Rural Fire Association, being trapped in house fires several times, making life changing decisions for people, not losing a fire fighter’s life under his command or even major injury, building the Charlotte Fire Department into what it is today, passing knowledge onto many, and always morally doing the right thing, are just a few of the thoughts that pass through Tyger’s mind regarding his father. “It’s unfortunate that after such a remarkable career, many people will not know of the accomplishments Chief Fullerton has created for this department. My hope is, no matter what happens in the future of this department, he shall know that the current and past members are forever grateful for the decisions and service that he has given the Charlotte Fire Department,” continued Tyger Fullerton.
Kevin’s father, Chief Cal Fullerton, always thought that Charlotte needed a West Side Fire Station so that there was immediate fire protection coverage on both sides of the busy tracks. The West Side Adhoc Committee was created and completed extensive studies. In 2008, the city voted to build and man the West Side Station to provide fire protection on both sides of the tracks.
In addition to managing both fire stations, putting out fires and saving lives, Kevin attended multiple fire conventions, seminars and trainings all over the state of Michigan. Between 1975 and 1994 he attended U of M Fire School, has trained and certified as a fire inspector, is EMT certified, an arson expert and investigator, a building inspector and official, a plan reviewer, a certified fire inspector, a driving instructor, a hazardous materials operations tech, trained as an incident command and a hazardous material inspector. He has also participated in the CFD water-ball tournaments all over the state.
Through the years, Chief’s wife, Nancy Fullerton held vigilance at home, or school functions, or wherever she might be when he was called away to put out yet another fire. “He knows what type of fire it is, and what is needed to fight it, just by the color of the smoke in the sky. He immediately starts sending in everything and everyone needed. The other fire departments are always relieved when he shows up. His knock-down time is amazing,” said wife Nancy Fullerton.
When joining the Department in 1995 as a young man, Chris Burt remembers being very intimidated by Chief Fullerton with the big moustache. “I quickly determined that I would never be able to obtain as much knowledge as Chief Fullerton about firefighting. One of the things I have respected about Chief is that he never lost sight of the fact that the fire department would be nothing without the volunteers. He respected the fact that we had families and jobs and needed to get back to them when the time was right. He has always been more than a chief and would do anything he could to help you. The city and rural fire departments owe Chief Fullerton loads of gratitude for all he has done. When equipment has failed, he has fixed it on his own time at no cost to the municipalities. He has used his own skills, equipment and sometimes money to remedy a situation with little to no fanfare. I am confident that with his retirement we will still see him around, helping train new firefighters and passing on his knowledge to all the volunteers.”
Chris Sloan wanted to express his feelings on his history with Chief Kevin Fullerton by sending in this statement: “Twenty years ago I was a twelve-year-old kid who started coming around hanging out with Tyger, you helped teach me all about the farm. When my father passed away two years later, you helped fill the void, so I thank you for that. For the last 15 years I have been a member of Charlotte Fire Department, and you have shown me what a leader is. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without your knowledge. You have always been willing to help, give advice, or roll up your sleeves and show how something works. Thank you for everything you have done for me personally and as a fireman. Congratulations on everything, you have earned it!” And Ron Smith sent in this sentiment: “Thank you Kevin, for your dedication to the fire department. You are the person that showed us how to be firefighters, you led by example. Your wisdom and experience shaped this group and made us into the strong team that is able to serve the community today.
Fred Wieting stated “Kevin was my mentor when I started on the fire department. I was in his back pocket, so to speak, for my first year. I owe my fire-fighting career to him. He started the first formal training in our area, and was instrumental in designing and building the first training center, which was totally built by the members of the department, and friends. When he helped to get the first hurst tool, the jaws of life, we spent every day for two weeks pulling cars apart at the local junk yard. We became good friends over the years. Although he was my boss for eleven years, I felt that I worked with him rather than for him. I don’t think the community knows what they had as a public servant, and the dedication he made to the community. Kevin Fullerton will be sorely missed as our fire chief.”
Chief Kevin Fullerton first retired in 2012. He was asked to come back as the interim fire chief, which he accepted and has served as the part-time fire chief, albeit working full time hours, for the last nine years. He has also held additional roles for his beloved City of Charlotte, including three times as interim city manager, and once filled in as city treasurer. After this retirement, Chief Fullerton plans to stay on as a volunteer to train new fire fighters.
Editor’s observation: After these interviews and the honor of writing this article, I must conclude that if the aerial ladder reaches 100 feet in the air, then Chief Kevin Fullerton must stand taller than one hundred feet. Congratulations, Chief Fullerton, and thank you for nearly five decades of service to our community.