For the second time in his “career,” Foy Mitchell has hung up his bunker gear and helmet in retirement.
Four years after retiring from the Fort Worth Fire Department, the 75-year-old Metroplex native moved to the Sand Flat community, where he – along with six others – helped incorporate the community’s volunteer fire department in 2001.
He had served as chief since the organization’s inception. But earlier this month, the firefighter of 39 years – 28 in Fort Worth, 11 volunteering at Sand Flat – decided it was time to pass the reins.
“I know my limitations,” Mitchell said. “Since I retired from Fort Worth, I’ve had triple bypass surgery and gone through treatment for colon cancer. It’s time for a younger guy to step up. We’ve got some good firefighters that can and will. The department is in good hands.”
Mitchell was born in Saginaw and graduated from Birdville High School in 1956. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Air Force for four years as a jet mechanic.
“I didn’t do anything with that after I got out of the service,” he said. “But I worked on single-engine (aircrafts), and airlines want people to work with multiple-engines. So there wasn’t much opportunity there. I didn’t feel like going back to school. I should have. I went straight to work instead.”
He worked as a service station attendant for several years before working for a plumber.
“When you’re standing in a ditch digging ditches and a fire truck goes by, you think, ‘I can do that,’” Mitchell said. “And I did. My brother-in-law and father-in-law were also firefighters, so that influenced me, too. It looked like a good opportunity.”
After enrolling, he said he had to pass a general knowledge civil service test, physical agility test and background check before being interviewed and trained.
“Then I started Dec. 1, 1964,” he said, “and retired in February of 1992.”
He had a heart attack in 1995 that required bypass surgery. Two years later, he started building his home on Lake Bridgeport, and in June of 1999, he and his wife of 49 years, Jean, moved there from Haltom City, “primarily to fish,” he added.
Two years later, he applied his experience by establishing a community fire department for “fire protection and insurance premiums.”
“Chico is the nearest department, and they were overworked,” Mitchell said. “It takes them about 30 minutes to get here, and they were the only department we had for a while.”
The old farming community, located west of Chico on the northwest end of Lake Bridgeport, is now primarily a recreation community.
“There are a lot of lake cabins,” he said. “Most houses belong to weekend residents. The population can swell to 400 people, but there’s normally only around 100 people, maybe not even that many.”
The department’s 25-square-mile coverage area – spanning County Road 1745 to the Jack County line and Farm Road 1810 to the lake’s edge – has them running an average of 30 calls a year.
“We say it’s because of our good fire prevention,” he joked.
His career opportunities, Mitchell said, has afforded him the chance to meet all kinds of people and cultivate great friendships.
“The fire service has been good to me,” he said. “It’s a good job. The friendships you make are invaluable. As a career firefighter, every third day, you’re with these guys. You spend a third of your career with them. They’re like family. Then you come out here to such a small community where you know most of everybody that lives there, let alone the people you work with.”
Now, he’ll spend time with people in recreation – fishing and bowling in a fall league in Watauga.
But a “part-time gig that’s turning full time” in the drug-testing business may call for a third retirement.
“A firefighter friend in San Antonio started this company,” Mitchell said. “When he found out where I lived – near all of these gravel truck companies – he called me up and asked if I would help him. I thought I’d just be doing it around here. And I do. But I’m also traveling as far north as Michigan. The trips get a little long, but you get to meet all kinds of people. And I’m keeping busy.”