Jerry Forte said he's learned so much from Mike Beadle at the Palm Coast Fire Department.
No more middle-of-the-night emergency calls. No more 12.67-mile bike rides at 5:45 a.m. every day. No more phones at the dinner table. No more sirens.
That’s what Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle is looking forward to as retirement on Friday, Sept. 28 gets closer. After 18 years as the official chief of the city’s department — plus two more years as acting chief and 10 years before that of working up the ranks from volunteer firefighter to career firefighter — Beadle is setting off across the county in an RV with his wife, DeeDee Beadle.
“I love what I do,” he said about the last three decades of firefighting and administrative roles. “I’ve had the best ride of anybody I’ve ever known in my life. This is true really because of the people that work with me. They make me look good; they make life easy.”
As Beadle sat in his office at Fire Station 25 on Aug. 24, his walls were wiped clean and bookshelves cleared; only a few random items remained. He decided to let the staff and crew he values so much each take pieces of his memorabilia — leaving behind memories of his impact on them.
Deputy Chief Gerard “Jerry” Forte will come into work Monday, Oct. 1, sit in a new chair at a new desk in the room right next door to his current one and take Beadle’s place as department chief.
“Here’s a guy that you’ve been with for almost 30 years, and it’s so wonderful that he’s been able to go through everything he’s been going through — starting off as a firefighter and ending up as a chief — to finally see him reach what we’ve all been reaching for is a little peace and quiet at the end of the sirens and for him to get away and have that peace we’re all longing for at the end of our careers,” Forte said.
Coming from a family filled with first responders, Forte has been working toward this position since he started as a volunteer firefighter on July 3, 1990, after his brother, Joe Forte, insisted he take that first step into the field.
“I’ve never looked back,” he said. “It was the best decision I made, and it was very much appreciated, and every year on Sept. 11, [Joe] sends a note to all the people in my family who do this work, and he’s very happy for all of us for him continuing this work.”
"I’ve made my fair share of mistakes along the way. (Beadle) doesn’t keep you in the doghouse long. You figure it out; you learn and you move on with it."
Jerry Forte, deputy fire chief
When Forte officially got notice that he was going to become chief, he was overwhelmed with joy.
“I texted my wife, my brother, all four of my kids and their spouses in one text message and told them,” he said. “My daughter said, ‘Is this for real?’ because I kind of play with her a lot. ‘Is this for real? Is this for real?’ Yes. This is official and for real. They were all very happy and proud.”
Forte has worked closely with Beadle since becoming the deputy chief in 2009. He said in the last five years, Beadle has allowed him to work more hands-on with the budget and other chief duties to prepare him for this possible promotion.
“Just watching Mike allow me to make my mistakes, in turn, we let our folks make the same mistakes I’ve made. And even though they’re making the same mistakes I made and you’re guiding them, there’s a certain amount of learning that has to take place because of that,” Forte said. “By following Mike, and seeing the example he set, it’s very simple to take this information and absorb it as a management style.”
The transition to chief will be a bittersweet one for Forte. He said he’s learned so much beyond book knowledge from Beadle that he’s excited to put into practice.
“[Mike] had this presence about him that remained calm and that transcends down through the whole department,” Forte said. “There was nothing that surprises the man, and, in turn, he accepts everybody with what they can do and who they are. And, I’ve never seen him have a bad day with his crews, and that sets the tone.”
That’s the kind of atmosphere Forte hopes to establish as chief. He values the honest relationship he had with Beadle, as the two would sometimes go head to head on issues that they’d argue about for weeks until reaching a conclusion together.
“There’s a different perspective and a different way someone’s looking at it, and I think that’s why he and I’ve been so successful all these years,” Beadle said. “I’ve come up with some ideas, and three days later, it’s born. That’s what I love about him; he just takes that idea and puts it together.”
As for the Beadles, they’re off to explore the land they’ve heard is west of Bunnell, Mike said with a chuckle. The pair has unofficially been planning this exploration since they got married close to 20 years ago. Their first big trip will be to see the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, next July.
“He dedicated his life to the city; now, it’s time to dedicate it to me,” DeeDee said.