After nearly four decades of service, Chief Phil Harbeson is set to retire from the Camp Verde Fire District at the end of the month.
Harbeson, a native of the area, began working with the fire district in the early 1970s.
“Things have changed a lot since then,” Harbeson said, adding he hoped to make the most of his retirement.
“I plan to do your typical retirement staff,” Harbeson said. “I plan to enjoy it.”
By “typical retirement stuff,” Harbeson means spending quality time fishing and riding his quad.
According to CVFD Spokeswoman Barbara Rice, Harbeson was promoted to captain toward the end of the 1970s, and became an assistant chief in the late ’80s. He was a paid part-time employee back then; most of his fellow firefighters were still volunteers at the time. It was in 1994 that he was elected the fire chief and has remained in that position ever since.
During his time with the district, Harbeson saw services expand to include ambulance and a hazmat team that is called to incidents throughout the region. Harbeson has also worked to see the construction of a new fire station, and, although the project has faced delays over the years, he plans to continue pushing the project ahead until his last day with the district.
He said leaving the district is a “bittersweet time” for him. Still, he feels he is leaving it in capable hands.
Taking over as the district’s ranking firefighter will be Deputy Chief Clayton Young, who has worked with the district almost as long as Harbeson. Young first put on the Camp Verde Fire uniform in 1975.
“It’s going to be different without [Phil],” Young said. “His first name is ‘Chief.’”
Young echoed Harbeson’s sentiments on how much things have changed in Camp Verde since the 1970s.
In addition to adapting to ever-changing rules and regulations, Harbeson said there’s a lot more in the community the firefighters are charged with protecting.
“It used to be that most of the businesses were centered on Main Street,” Young said. “The shopping areas out by Bashas’ weren’t there, and there were a lot fewer houses.”
Still, Young said the underlying mission of the fire district remains the same.
“We don’t do this looking for glory or attention,” Young said. “It’s just what we do.”
Harbeson’s retirement takes effect Friday, July 30.
Young was appointed to take over for Harbeson last week by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, who stamped the recommendation of the district’s governing board.
Young will serve as interim fire chief until Tuesday, Nov. 30. After that, the district hopes to have changed the way it is governed, Young said.
Currently, the district’s board consists of two people, Harbeson and Secretary and Treasurer Jack Blum. It’s less and less common to see this form of leadership in fire districts around the state.
Due to new rules passed by the Arizona Legislature, the district will switch to being run by a five-member board after the November election. The new board of directors will take their seats Wednesday, Dec. 1, and Young said that new body will make any decisions about the chief’s position.
In a letter to the county, Blum wrote that while Young will return to his position as deputy chief when the new board starts its term, they will decide whether to keep Young as interim chief until a fire chief is hired.
“They’ll run the district,” Young said. “I’m just the fire guy.”
The Camp Verde Fire District was organized in 1961.