Peoria Deputy Fire Chief

Peoria Deputy Fire Chief Billy Morris presents an award to Capt. Mark Barbee.

To many in the city of Peoria, the name Capt. Mark Barbee means something.

Since becoming a firefighter with the Peoria Fire-Medical Department in 2001, the public information officer has served the city in different capacities.

So, on Oct. 26, AZ Elks Lodge No. 2559 honored Barbee and several other first responders from different agencies for their service — Barbee for “going beyond the normal call for duty.” 

To Barbee, the award — for which he was nominated by Fire Chief Bobby Ruiz — means a chance to highlight the different roles in the community that firefighters play.

“It’s nice that we have these other people that like to recognize the first responders. That’s what it’s more about,” Barbee said. “I don’t think you’ll meet many firefighters that like to be on the news, who like to be told, ‘You did a great job. Here’s this award for doing this.’ That’s not what our job is about. To get it, you are a little embarrassed.

“At the same time, it is important for people to know what we do. Most people think we just pick people up off the floor, put fires out, and maybe cut people out of cars every once in a while. They don’t know about all the little things,” Barbee continued.

With the fire department, Barbee has assisted with fighting fires, catching an active shooter at Westgate, helping people in car accidents, helping people to get up, and even getting a toilet seat off a small child’s head. In different roles, he has often had to think outside of the box and be a critical thinker. 

“You have to process from your brain down to your hands and make that work,” Barbee said. “When people call 911 to get us there, there is no 911 for us to call. They are relying that we can get whatever needs to be done.

“The one call could be a fire, and the next one could be, ‘I need my ring cut off my finger.’”

Barbee started his career as a probationary firefighter for the first year. In 2005, he became a paramedic, a role he found to be one of the most challenging of his career. 

“You have a lot more responsibility. Your patient care (and) your skill level needs to be high. There’s a lot of demand on your knowledge and your emotions when you have those tougher calls,” Barbee said. 

Barbee transitioned to his current role as a public information officer in May but has held numerous other positions with the city, including being a terrorism liaison officer. He considers driving fire trucks, which he did for about 10 years, to be one of his most exciting responsibilities.

As a SWAT paramedic for the Peoria Police Department, he helped to develop the standard operating procedure for active shooters and violent incidents and trained others in handling violent and stressful situations. 

“Myself and a sergeant from Peoria police trained all of the fire and police department on how to work as a team and bring fire in with police on these violent incidents,” Barbee recalled. “A lot of other cities weren’t doing that. We were one of the first. We had to pioneer that program and come up with training that made sense. It is done more often now, but at the time, there weren’t a lot of people doing that.”

Firefighters undergo 120 hours of training each year. Those who have held different roles, like Barbee, have had a variety of different types of training.

“It’s natural for firefighters to have quite a bit of continued education under their belt. It’s just a matter of how active you want to be. … The more that you want to do, the more extra training you will have,” Barbee said.

Once firefighters reach more senior positions in their department, as Barbee has, they start to train others. He has helped to provide training in different areas, including rescue swimming and boat operating.

“People look at you as a mentor. … It’s more of a natural progression. I can’t say there was an exact moment in time,” Barbee said. 

For five years, Barbee served on the fire department’s public safety retirement board.

“Being part of the public safety retirement board, when you go to those meetings with the mayor and other people, you are donating your time. You are protecting your group. You are making sure that your firefighters are being taken care of as best as possible,” Barbee said.

The fire department also tries to engage with the community in different ways.

For the fire department’s charity organization Peoria Firefighters Charities, Barbee — a classic car enthusiast who has restored a number of vehicles — helped to start the charity car show Fire It Up. A large portion of its proceeds go toward scholarships for high school students, and $50,000 was raised over the five-year period that Barbee ran the event.

“I had a background and knew what needed to be done. I just never expected it to be as profitable as it was. It is our single biggest revenue generator,” Barbee said. 

The fire department has also held community events and taken part in activities such as birthday drive-bys. 

“We like to see the kids and interact with the public, let them know that we are real people. … We’re not superheroes. We’re just like them. We just have a different job,” Barbee said.