After 48 years of service with the Clayton Fire Department, Fire Chief Lee Barbee has retired from the department, effective May 1. Barbee has accepted a promotion to Deputy Town Manager for the Town of Clayton, a position he has held as an interim since June 2021.
Barbee’s contributions to the Town of Clayton in the last two years as Interim Deputy Town Manager has proved that he is the right person for the job. In addition to serving in the town’s Administration Department, Barbee has overseen much of the town’s operations including Water Resouces, Public Works, Electric, Information Services, Engineering, Inspections, and Planning Departments.
“Chief Barbee has faithfully served the Town of Clayton for nearly 50 years.” said Clayton Town Manager Rich Cappola. “I am confident his years of leadership experience and dedication to this community will help us continue moving forward.”
His fire service retirement closes a chapter in Clayton Fire Department’s history. Chief Barbee joined the Clayton Fire Department on June 1, 1975, following his graduation from Clayton High School.
“At the time, Clayton’s population had just topped 3,000,” said Barbee. “Today, our population is nearing an 30,000 – a 900 percent increase in my 48 years of service – and that exponential residential and commercial development shows no signs of slowing. I know our greatest challenge will be the continued growth of our vibrant community.”
Over the years Barbee worked his way up through the ranks and became fire chief in October 1991, a position he held for more than 30 years.
“During my 31½ years as chief, we worked hard and with much heartache to build the premiere fire department my hometown deserved, helping transform a fractured hybrid volunteer/town fire service into the organized, seamless full-time operation it is today.” said Barbee. “It was not easy, and few realize how far our fire department has come. In a span of more than four decades, we transformed from an all-volunteer service to a combination volunteer/full-time service and now, to a staff of more than 50 full-time, paid firefighters.”
According to Barbee, the Clayton Fire Department now responds to more than 3,200 emergency calls a year, protecting more than 60,000 residents within town limits and the surrounding Claytex Fire District.
Since joining the fire department Barbee has been extremely involved in advancing the fire service and has served in numerous leadership capacities with an impressive assortment of local, state and national organizations including: Johnston County Firemen’s Association, Eastern Carolina Firemen’s Association, NC State Firemen’s Association, Johnston County Fire Chiefs’ Association, North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs, Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Chiefs, and an active participant in the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He was also named North Carolina Fire Chief of the Year in 2018.
The Town is planning a celebration to honor Barbee in June.
Chief Barbee will continue to transition his duties at the Fire Department over the coming weeks. The Town will begin developing an extensive recruitment process for this crucial position.
“Selecting a new fire chief is not a decision that should be taken lightly, as it has a significant impact on the safety and well-being of the community,” said Cappola. “We anticipate the selection of a visionary leader to take our fire service to the next level of excellence, while building on the foundation that the department leadership has created.