Fire chief named 2008 ‘Distinguished Citizen of the Year’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Staff report
The Civitan Club has named Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell the 2008 “Distinguished Citizen of the Year.”
Parnell accepted the award Thursday night before a crowd of more than 80 Civitan members, spouses and guests at the Country Club of Salisbury.
It was the club’s annual awards and installation banquet.
Guests included Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz, Mayor Pro Tem Paul Woodson, Councilman Mark Lewis, City Manager David Treme and Public Information Officer Karen Wilkinson.
Parnell’s wife, Tonya, and son, Adam, also attended. Parnell’s older son, Bobby, a pitcher with the New York Mets, could not attend.
The award was kept a secret from Chief Parnell until the presentation Thursday.
Parnell embraced his family and accepted the award from Lewis during a standing ovation.
“I am extremely proud of the dedicated firefighters of the Salisbury Fire Department and honored to serve as their chief,” Parnell said.
The year has been a roller coaster of emotions for Parnell. His department lost two firefighters March 7 in the Salisbury Millwork fire, and the subsequent investigations and media reports have placed the department under close scrutiny.
In recent weeks, Parnell also has seen his son, Bobby, reach the major leagues for the first time.
“I have never known a finer person than Bob Parnell,” Kluttz said in a written statement.
“Working with him during these last 10 years, I have consistently been impressed with his character, his integrity and his dedication to his profession. But the true test of a person is how he handles adversity.
“These last months have been as difficult as anyone could experience, and through them, one thing has remained steadfast รณ that character, integrity and professional dedication.
“There is no one I admire more. The city of Salisbury is certainly fortunate to have someone of his caliber in a leadership position. Salisbury is a better place because of his service.”
Parnell entered the fire service on his 18th birthday as a volunteer in Oakhurst, N.J. His father was a firefighter and fire chief and his mother served on the fire department ladies auxiliary.
His uncles were firefighters and fire chiefs, and his cousins also served as firefighters. His grandparents served the Eatontown, N.J., Volunteer Fire Department. His grandmother was part of the notification system, activating the siren atop the fire station and later serving on the telephone calling tree.
“I never knew anything else but that I wanted to be a firefighter,” Parnell said.
Parnell has served with the Salisbury Fire Department since 1984. He was a firefighter from 1984-1985; an engineer from 1985-86; and a captain from 1986-88.
Serving as a battalion chief from 1988-2004, Parnell became chief in 2004.
He is a 1981 graduate of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College with an associate’s degree in fire science. Parnell also received an associate’s degree in fire protection engineering from RCCC in 1984.
A 1997 graduate of the National Fire Academy, Parnell has received the coveted Executive Fire Officer degree and is a 2004 graduate of the N.C. Institute of Government’s Municipal Administration program.
Parnell is currently completing his bachelor’s degree from N.C. A&T State University in occupational safety and health.
Asked once what had been most meaningful to him during his years of fire service, Parnell said it was “the honor to be husband of the most understanding and dedicated Tonya, and father of Bobby and Adam, who have sacrificed much while I attended fire department meetings, training and emergency calls.”