Starkville Fire Department Battalion Chief Stewart Bird is retiring from the department after 25 years of risking his life to serve the community.
Bird has been an active force in the community over 20 years from working with the Starkville Fire Department, Mississippi Task Force and the Oktibbeha County Hospital Emergency Services.
As an employee at East Mississippi Lumber Company, a couple of guys that he sold equipment to persuaded him to look into getting a job with the Starkville Fire Department.
In August 1994, he joined the Starkville Fire Department under then-Starkville Fire Chief Willie Johnson.
He said the looks of appreciation on the faces of those he helped out with medical issues or fire related incidents made his heart smile.
Six months later, current Starkville Fire Chief Charles Yarbrough joined the department.
Yarbrough described Bird as being competitive and quick to take charge in the 24 years that he's worked with him.
"I never had an issue with him doing what I needed him to do," Yarbrough said.
As far as emergency operations, Yarbrough said Bird was top-notch with his training that he acquired from the Mississippi Task Force.
Bird joined the Mississippi Task Force in 1998 and thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of his duties.
"It's something that pushes you beyond just stopping fires, it pushes you to train and learn more about a bunch of different aspects. You know you don't get to do that at the fire department," Bird said. "Because rarely do you have flooding right there in your hometown and you get to actually go help people in different communities."
When Hurricane Katrina hit, Bird was alongside others in the task force conducting search and rescues for bodies. More recently he was in Florida to help those stuck or confined in their houses to evacuate.
The hardest part about the Mississippi Task Force was the training he induced.
"It pushes you to another limit that you don't necessarily get at the fire department," he said.
"He is a great task force member," Yarbrough said.
In July 2018, Bird was deputy task force leader during the search for missing 23-year-old Victoria Hudson in Clay County. She went missing on Thursday, July 5 after driving through a gate on a private road that landed her vehicle face down in a shallow creek.
Bird said the call came into Oktibbeha County, and when Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott realized the search would become a rescue mission that's when he called on the Mississippi Task Force and other agencies.
Multiple agencies set up a makeshift command post for the two day search in summer heat on land of tall grass infested with snakes and hogs.
Hudson was found Saturday, July 7, and survived by sleeping in a nearby deer stand and drinking creek water.
"And I was actually involved in the search with the military airplane that went down in the Delta and that was one right before that (Clay County search) where we had to recover the bodies. When the airplane actually crashed all the bodies, they were kind of scattered," he said.
Bird is originally from Andover, New York where his Dad who was retired from the United State Navy talked him into following in his footsteps.
Feeling like the Navy wasn't for him, he served one term and moved to Starkville.
Bird said the thing that he will miss the most about the SFD are "the guys."
Yarbrough laughed and said he will miss the competitive sports he played with Bird at the station such as softball and basketball.
"We had some really good times playing basketball together like I said he was very competitive so we would always have a battle no matter what we were doing like throwing horseshoes - he was going to be competitive," Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough said Bird always wanted to be number one.
"I think that's one of the good things about him that made him so good that no matter what he always wanted to be in first place," he added. "Sometimes he would cheat to get there, but he always got to first place."
Oktibbeha County Hospital Director of Emergency Medical Services Michael Hunt agreed with Yarbrough about Bird's excellent work ethic.
"He is very good at what he does and an excellent critical thinker," Hunt said.
Hunt said Bird has worked for him for approximately 21 years.
Bird is now recognized on the retiree board at Starkville Fire Department.
"A lot of people don't make the board but he did his time so he's on the board. That's a blessing, he served 25 years without any injuries or any deaths," Yarbrough said.
"He was just an all-around good person," Yarbrough said. "We wish him nothing but the best for him and his family. He will always be a Starkville firefighter, and he knows that he will always be a part of our family."
Bird spent every third day with colleagues for 24 hours and said it left them no choice but to become family.
"I will miss the camaraderie being able to hang out with all your friends. We're kind of like family. I call them the guys but actually the guys at the fire department are actually your family," Bird said. "That's kind of like your home away from home. Your family when you're not at home. That's your family when you're at work."
Bird's training with the Mississippi Task Force is something Yarbrough feels was a great asset to Starkville Fire Department.
"He actually helped our department because we kind of got away from it awhile but two or three years ago he came and asked me if we could get back with it," Yarbrough said.
Under Bird's leadership the Starkville Fire Department became active with the task force again.
The training and staying up-to-date on the task force will also be missed by Bird.
When asked what his plans for retirement were Bird laughed and said, "Well, I'm at the beach right now."
He visits the beach often with his family and said it will continue to be a getaway destination.
"My retirement plan is to spend time with my family and my kids and spend some time on the beach and just travel a little bit more," he said.