Deputy Fire Chief & Fire Marshal David Barnes Retires After 50+ Years in Public Safety
How do you sum up the career of a man that spans fifty plus years in public safety? It’s not easy. You have to go back to 1961 when Deputy Fire Chief/Fire Marshal David Barnes was a teenager living in Grapevine. He served as a Grapevine Volunteer Firefighter and also would ride out with patrol officers in the evening. He continued serving as a volunteer in Grapevine until the late sixties. Barnes then moved on to become a full-time police officer with the City of North Richland Hills. Within a few years at NRHPD he was promoted to Sergeant and worked as a detective. But his career really heated up when he was asked to join the Tarrant County Criminal Task Force while working for NRHPD.
Barnes recalls a few high profile cases involving organized crime in Tarrant County. One particular case revolved around an informant who was trying to play both sides against the middle. Barnes said, “The informant told law enforcement that the drug smugglers said to tell police they were coming heavily armed and wouldn’t be taken alive. We told the informant to tell the smugglers that officers would be heavily armed and we would take no prisoners if fired upon. The task force got into position waiting for the plane to land that was carrying the drugs and the smugglers. The plane came in and landed at Spinks Air Field and we swarmed it. Ultimately it ended peacefully and no shots were fired.”
Barnes recalls another time when he was still a police officer. He was involved in a situation at his own apartment complex in Dallas. Seems some neighbors were operating a theft ring out of their apartment. Police raided them one night and knowing that Barnes lived nearby they asked him to stay in the gang’s apartment in case any other bad guys showed up. Barnes said, “I called my Chief at the time and he decided to come over and sit with me just to be on the safe side. Sure enough, a man and a woman came into the apartment and when they saw us they took off and we took off after them. We rounded a corner when suddenly shots rang out from a nearby vehicle. We hit the dirt and returned fire back at the vehicle! Within minutes more police officers and the police helicopter swooped in and began scouring the area for the pair. The vehicle was later found abandoned in another part of town with blood in it. It’s not the first time I had been shot at. I can tell you I’ve eaten plenty of dirt in my days!”
It was about this time, that Barnes went to work for the DFW Airport. He started there in 1973 and served ten years as a Motorcycle Officer as well as an Investigator and Assistant Fire Marshal in the Fire Prevention Division. DFW required DPS officers to be dual certified as Police officer, Firefighter and EMT. One of the primary focuses at the time at DFW Airport was Air Piracy and Barnes was all over it. Barnes recalls another story while working at the airport. He was called to assist at an airport security check. It seems the x-ray screener kept showing several weapons in a passenger’s bag but the screeners couldn’t locate them. Barnes said, “We’d run it through and would see weapons. We’d take the bag apart, run it through and no guns. We’d repack the bag and once again the guns appeared. I looked at everything in the bag and all items were cleared and packages appeared to be factory sealed. That’s when I decided to start opening the packages. Sure enough, there were three boxes of Bisquick and inside each one was a gun. That was definitely a first for me. More importantly it kept three weapons off the airplane.”
During his tenure he played a key role in helping to develop the Arson Information Management System (AIMS) now known as BATS or Bomb Arson Tracking System. Barnes even traveled to Washington, D.C. to work with the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agency to lobby for changes that would help the national database work as it was intended. Barnes said, “I got a little pushback from the ATF but eventually they came around and realized what I was telling them was the only way the database system would truly be effective and enhance public safety.”
It’s easy to see that public safety has always been at the center of everything David Barnes does. Whether he was on the police side or fire side, public safety has ranked high on the list. It has always been so much a part of him that around 1980, while still working at DFW, Barnes began volunteering with the Southlake Fire Department. Southlake knew a good thing when they saw it so they offered Barnes a full-time position as Fire Marshal. He jumped at the chance to work in Southlake and retired from the DFW Airport in 2000 after twenty-six and half years.
Barnes spoke very highly of the City and the fire department and especially the citizens and business owners that he has had the pleasure of serving. He elaborates a little on why he has been so successful at it for all these years. “Fire safety is extremely important to me but sometimes you have to take a little extra time to explain to a homeowner or a business owner why specific fire safety codes have to be adhered to.” Barnes gave a great example of how he tries to have a ‘win-win’ in every situation. It’s not always possible but that’s his goal. Barnes said, “I had a homeowner who didn’t understand why they needed to have a sprinkler system in their house. I said that it was required for any structure over 6,000 square feet. The homeowner said he could understand if it was for a business but not a house.” Barnes explained that it’s the same amount of space and besides the sprinklers do not go off all at once; only where a fire or smoke is detected. But more importantly he added, Firefighters and equipment could get to your home within minutes but they would use several thousand gallons of water from a fire hose instead of one room getting a few hundred gallons of water from an in-home sprinkler system. The man thought for a moment and said, ‘Well, that makes a lot of sense to me’ so once again, Barnes walked away with a ‘win-win.’ Barnes said that he has had to become quite the salesman over the years. “You have to sell ‘fire codes’ to people. You can’t just say, ‘you need this’ and not explain why it’s important.”
And that’s just another reason why David Barnes is so well thought of around Southlake. It’s not just the place that he lives and works but it’s home to him. It’s the life-long connections and friendships that he’s made through the years. “I’ve always tried to treat people with kindness and the way that I would like to be treated and it’s worked for me all these years,” he said.
I asked him what he would miss most about not coming to work after retiring. He pauses for a moment and said, “The people. I will miss the people I work for every day and the citizens.” Notice that Barnes said, “The people I work ‘for’… not with.” He truly has a servant’s heart. Fire Chief Michael Starr says, “David Barnes is a good friend and a great guy to have on your team. As his friend I can say that he has probably forgotten more than most of us will ever know. He has done a fantastic job of training his successor and though he will be missed; we will continue to ensure that the citizens receive the same level of service that they have come to expect from the Fire Marshal’s office.”
David Barnes has received a Lifetime Membership Gold card for his years of service from the International Association of Arson Investigators. He’s also received the Volunteer Firefighter of the Year Award from both Grapevine and Southlake. He has served as President for ATAC, Tarrant County Arson Investigators Association and the Metroplex Fire Safety Educators. He has also received the Professional Services Award and Director’s Award from the City of Southlake and the ATAC Special Service Award. He served several terms on the Board of Directors for the Texas Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators. He served as President of Grapevine AMBUCS and Received Distinguished Alumni/Hall of Fame award from Grapevine High School.
During the last half of his career Barnes even found time to pass on his vast experience and knowledge in fire service. He taught for 27 years at the Texas A & M Extension Service College in College Station. He received a 27-year Instructor Award for Excellence. Barnes said he and his lovely wife Cindy will be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in July. They plan to spend more time with their children and grandchildren… and are excited about another grandchild that’s on the way! David officially retires in June but he promises he will stop by often for coffee and make the rounds to chat with long time friends and coworkers. We plan to hold you to that friend. You will be missed. Happy retirement — you’ve earned it!
A few little known facts about David:
He and his brother once ran the movie reels at the Historic Palace Theatre in Grapevine.
He recalled seeing the bullet-riddled car that Bonnie and Clyde met their fate in when a traveling show came through town and stopped at the Palace Theatre. People gathered ‘round to see the car and other items from the infamous shootout.
He has worked escort detail for three presidents including Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan.
He likes to ride his Harley in his spare time.
He is Co-Founder of the Grapevine Heritage Gunfighters, a re-enactors group.
His grandfather owned a gas station in Grapevine where the Bank of the West is now located. He recalls several gangsters of the era stopping and purchasing fuel at the station… Bonnie and Clyde, who later killed two patrolmen on Dove Road in Southlake, and Herbert ‘The Cat’ Nobles who was killed on the north side of Grapevine Lake.
He once gave a parking ticket to Actor/Comedian Flip Wilson who promptly auctioned it off on television.
He also got a hug and a kiss from the famous Charo.