In the 1970s, his grandfather worked at the local jail. He would sometimes shadow his grandpa on the job.
Whenever a fire call came through, Spencer’s grandfather would press a button that alerted the city’s volunteers.
“I thought I’d really like to do that,” Spencer, 60, said. “So when I turned 21, I asked to be accepted on the department.”
He began working as a volunteer firefighter in 1975.
The department averaged one to three calls a week. Today, he said the department receives more than 30 calls a day.
Spencer’s first call was for a car fire. “I was so nervous when I got there, I could hardly push the clutch in to get the pump in gear,” he recalled.
That tenseness, he said, has persisted throughout his almost 40-year career.
“If your adrenaline doesn’t get pumping when you go on a call,” he said, “then you don’t need to be doing this job.”
From 1982 to 2004, he worked full time for Fulton County, eventually reaching the rank of battalion captain.
In 1992, he was promoted to Roswell’s assistant fire chief. Following the death of 31-year department veteran Neal Butterworth, Spencer was named the city’s fire chief in 2004. Spencer considered Butterworth a mentor, calling his death one of the hardest days of his life. Tragedy struck again in 2013, when Carol, Spencer’s wife of 29 years, died from cancer.
One of his proudest moments was donating a vehicle to Island Park, NY after Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. “Island Park Fire Department officers came down and drove the engine from here to back up there,” he said. “Today, they’re still using that fire truck.”
Last year, he was named fire chief of the year by the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs. The same year, he was nominated for the Liberty Mutual National Firemark Award.
On Sept. 2, Spencer is set to end his nearly four-decade run with the Roswell Fire Department. A retirement celebration will be held at Roswell City Hall from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 29.
He said he will miss the “brotherhood” of the department.
“Once you do that for 39 years, it’s hard to walk away from it,” he said.
At the bottom of every e-mail he sends, Spencer includes the words “Everyone Goes Home Safe.” The phrase, he said, has been the mantra of his career.
“We’ve never lost a fireman while I’ve been here,” he said. “That’s something to be proud of.”