After 41 years working in emergency services, with his last 11 years leading the South Walton Fire District, Chief Richard Talbert, 60, is set to retire this year.

Talbert said his last official day is Feb. 28, and that the South Walton Fire District Board of Fire Commissioners took his recommendation and extended an offer to Operations Chief Ryan Crawford to be the new fire chief.

Talbert said he's extremely thankful for the community's support, the board of commissioners and the many men and women he's worked with along the way.

"It's emotional, it's bittersweet," Talbert said. "(I'm) probably running the full gamut of emotions right now, but I'm excited. Never done retirement before, so it's a new venture."

His journey into the world of emergency services began when he was around 20 years old in Marion County. Since then, he's worked for the city of Ocala, Kennedy Space Center and the city of Titusville before coming to SWFD.

He said his love for the field came from watching his father and uncles work as firefighters. They were his "real life heroes."

Talbert said he's proud of what he's accomplished through the course of his career, especially during the time he's run the show at SWFD.

He was proud of the fact that SWFD operates as a fully advanced life support firefighter paramedic agency, meaning every responding vehicle in the district is equipped with paramedics.

When he first became chief of SWFD, Talbert said he found a group of people who were energetic and dedicated. Today, he sees the same passionate and professional group constantly looking to improve.

"I call our guys humble warriors because they'll go out and go to the edge — absolute edge — for the community and to help somebody in need," Talbert said. "I think that's just who we are. We have a real passion to serve."

He said he wasn't sure what the next chapter of his life would bring, but that he was excited to be able to spend more time with his family and his wife of 39 years, Laura.

When asked what he'd say to residents who might be uncertain what the future of SWFD would hold, he said the following:

"Thank you for allowing me to serve. Thank you for supporting our fire district. It's been a real honor and I have a lot of gratitude for a community that understands and appreciates high-level emergency services. (Residents) shouldn't be worried because what we've invested in over the last 10-12 years is growing young, qualified and emerging leaders in our department that are poised and ready ... and are going to take (SWFD) to the next level."