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Fort Myers' first African American fire chief is a manifestation of Dr. King's dream

Posted at 9:50 AM, Jan 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-20 09:50:31-05

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Protecting you and your family and making history at the same day. We're focusing a historic achievement at the Fort Myers Fire Department as we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Fox 4's Shari Armstrong spoke with the new chief, who many say is a manifestation of Dr. King's dream.

It all started when a guy meets a girl in college and says he's a firefighter. "No you're not. We don't have any black firefighters," said Phenecia.

He tells her to look at the caller ID. "It was like 'Fort Myers Fire Department'. I was like 'oh'," said Phenecia.

20 years of marriage and four kids later, Phenecia is married to Tracy McMillion, who has climbed the ranks to a much different title: Fire Chief of the City of Fort Myers Fire Department.

McMillion's served Southwest Florida as a firefighter, paramedic, training captain and division chief of training. He was appointed Deputy Fire Chief last March and soon became interim chief.

And in December 2019, a historical promotion. McMillion became the department's first African American chief.

"I never thought of, or think of my way as like ‘I should be fire chief.’ Nah, it's by the grace of God and the struggles and work that was put in."

McMillion stresses that his accomplishments required persistence. "I took my paramedic test I think four times!"

McMillion is now taking those failures and turning them into successes, becoming an EMY adjunct professor at Florida Southwestern State College, and an instructor and fire academy coordinator at the Fort Myers Fire Academy.

"The guy who failed school now runs the school that gets people certified."

The Chief comes from a family of first responders, and says he didn't know he wanted to be a firefighter. But once he went to fire school, "man, I fell in love."

That love for fire service comes with the impact of the 24 hours on/48 hours off work schedule that he knows all too well.

"We're working on Thanksgiving, we're working on birthdays, we're working on recitals, where a lot of times it pulls us away from family."

But they both agree a strong support system makes a difference. "Our family motto is faith, family and sacrifice. And that is what we've had to do for the last couple years," says Phenecia McMillion.

As Chief Tracy McMillion makes history as the city's first black chief, the country celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.

It’s a fire McMillion says he'll never put out. "I think it gives an opportunity for diversity to show, and to shine. And I think that's what Dr. King's dream was."