Thursday, 29 August 2019 15:17

Covington caps 30-year career with Rockingham Fire Department

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Lt. Wayne Covington signed off just before 9 a.m. Thursday after 30 years with the Rockingham Fire Department. Lt. Wayne Covington signed off just before 9 a.m. Thursday after 30 years with the Rockingham Fire Department. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — It’s been  more than 30 years since Wayne Covington received a call from Vernon McKinnon to ask if he wanted to try being a firefighter.

At the time, he was working as a cook at the hospital.

Covington said he had wanted to be either a police officer or a fireman, so he decided to take the offered opportunity and joined the Rockingham Fire Department on July 5, 1988.

“It was my dream … he (McKinnon) opened the door for me,” he said.

Thursday morning, Covington signed off for the last time. (Watch the video here.)

The dispatcher at Emergency Communications replied: “Thank you for 30 years of service to Rockingham Fire Department and the citizens of Richmond County. Your kind voice and amazing sense of humor will certainly be missed. Congratulations on your retirement from everyone here at Richmond County Emergency Services.”

The voices that followed were from his fellow firefighters at the department, including McKinnon and Chief Harold Isler.

McKinnon had only been with the department for a month when he made the call to Covington and the two have worked together for the past three decades.

“(He’s been) a great officer, always great to be around, very funny, always keeps everybody going,” McKinnon said. “A lot of firefighting experience just went out the door, but we’ve got people to pick up the slack, so we’ll just keep going forward.

“This won’t be his last day coming around the fire station,” he added. 

Like Troy Sorrell, who retired earlier this year and showed up to see his former colleague sign off, McKinnon said Covington would be back.

Through the years, Covington worked his way up the ranks from firefighter to engineer and retired as a lieutenant, serving under chiefs Charles Trotter, Charles Gardener and Isler.

“I’ve worked under some heroes,” he said.

Like most firemen who were working at the time, Covington said the most difficult call he responded to was the Imperial Foods fire in Hamlet on Sept. 3, 1991.

“That was the roughest fire I’ve ever been in because I lost some of my loved ones,” he soberly recalled. “That was tough … it was tough for everybody in the county.”

For the past few years, the department has supported the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Covington has been a volunteer at the summer camp.

“That was lovely; I enjoy working with kids,” he said, adding that he and Keith McPhaul also helped out with the Bowtie Club at L.J. Bell Elementary School.

He said he’s going to miss the guys — and Administrative Assistant Kristy Player, who is considered “one of the guys.”

“It’s like a second home,” he said. “You’ve already got one home, but this is home — you’ve got family here, too.”

While he said both the department and the city “have been good to me,” the most rewarding part of the job, Covington joked, is being able to retire at 52 and enjoy life.

“I’ve enjoyed the ride,” he said. “It’s time to let the young whipper-snappers have it”