A Fond Farewell to Fire Chief Mike Watson
Longtime UFD Assistant Fire Chief to retire at the end of December
After the turn of the New Year, in the second week of January, our city will celebrate a milestone. January 14 marks 15 years as an incorporated city. During that time, we have grown from a small staff without a City Hall into a respected municipality that has gained national recognition for excellence in governance. In our years, we’ve seen changes. Some big, some small, but one thing that has always been consistent is our leadership and representation in the Unified Fire Authority.
Assistant Fire Chief Mike Watson has steered the helm for Cottonwood Heights since our beginning and at the end of this month, he will retire following a 28-year career in firefighting. During his tenure, Watson watched Cottonwood Heights grow from a township operating in a conference room of a local business to a developed city with established codes and practices.
“Being assigned to a startup city has been a phenomenal experience for me,” he said.
“Watching a group of people come together with a shared vision and seeing them navigate the difficulties — from writing policies to building a General Plan, for me it was simply incredible to be a part of that,” he said.
Watson says the part he will miss is the camaraderie he built with the city staff in the startup process.
“I told Mayor Peterson and (Police) Chief Russo I will miss that part as much as what I do with the UFA,” he said, “because it has opened up my thinking incredibly.”
Watson’s approach has always been to lead with an open mind and reciprocity to feedback and ideas. His calm demeanor and stoic-leadership style left an indelible imprint on his colleagues and brothers-in-service.
“In our industry, you see a lot of different personalities and skillsets,” said Cottonwood Heights Police Chief Robby Russo.
“If there is one person whom I would like to emulate in my life, it is Mike Watson,” he said. “From his knowledge to his people skills to the family man that he is, he is the most patient and respectable man I have ever met.”
Watson’s legacy in Cottonwood Heights extends beyond patience and manners, however. During his tenure he has been instrumental in keeping Cottonwood Heights associated with Unified Fire Authority and has helped strengthen relationships in surrounding communities.
“I think without Mike Watson being here, Cottonwood Heights would not be a part of Unified Fire,” explained Russo. “Instead of having a more efficient, regional fire service provider like we do, we would probably have our own department with fewer resources.”
Russo explained that police and fire services each have varied structures and operate differently in how they serve their community. It is due to these differences, he said, that the Unified Fire membership has greatly benefitted Cottonwood Heights during our lifespan as a city.
“Fire service, because of the way they operate, cities can overlap and share resources. Their training and tools are better kept in the Unified model,” Russo said. “Mike Watson had an ability to see that and provide a calm presence within the political community and through that, he kept Cottonwood Heights a member of Unified Fire Department.”
“I’m not sure that would have occurred without him,” added Russo.
Watson said that during his career, his belief system kept him grounded and clear-headed during both turbulent times and good.
“I believe in good causes. There are many, many good causes out there. (Cottonwood Heights City) is one of them. I think that is probably the driving factor for me is that it is a good cause. We have folks who face difficult or dangerous situations every day. My job is to make sure that I am doing everything I can to help those folks — whether firefighters, city employees, elected officials and residents — to be as safe and as successful as possible.”
Cottonwood Heights has had a successful turn as an incorporated city, and much of that can be attributed to stellar leadership from folks like Watson. Long-term relationships have built a level of trust that has fostered success.
“I have had the honor of working with Chief Watson over the past 15 years in my capacity as Director of the Cottonwood Heights Parks and Recreation Service Area, as a City Councilman and now as Mayor,” said Mayor Mike Peterson.
“During this time, I have found Chief Watson to be an intelligent and dedicated individual who has always wanted the very best for our city. Mike is a true professional in every way. He will be sincerely missed,” he said.