McKenzie died Tuesday in a local hospital. He was 71.
“He was full of stories and full of life,” said Battalion Chief Phil Taylor. “He could just talk for hours. He was an extremely smart man.”
Taylor started working at the fire department 33 years ago while McKenzie was serving as a training officer. He said his biggest legacy will be the effect he had on the training process, helping to develop a coordinated system of education in rookie school.
“He’s the one that really spearheaded that and kept the ball rolling,” said Taylor.
City Manager John Bennett worked with McKenzie for many years during his time as fire chief and remembered him as a very steady person with a heart of gold who was very knowledgeable about fire fighting techniques and prevention.
“Just about all the firemen were trained by him,” said Bennett. “Everyone loved him because he was the one who taught them everything they knew.”
Deputy Chief Benny Bohannon recalled McKenzie piecing together a computer from several different machines in 1988 and installing it in the fire department, making it the first computerized department in the city.
Bohannon also credited McKenzie with being one of the first chiefs that trusted people in the department to do their jobs and didn’t pressure anyone by trying to micromanage.
That spirit carried over to the heat of firefighting as well. Bohannon remembered a situation where he worked alongside Henderson to direct companies to extinguish three house fires.
Bohannon looked around and was surprised to see McKenzie next to a Red Cross van with doughnuts and not in the office as usual.
“What you doing, bossman?” Bohannon recalled asking him.
“Well I ain’t never seen three houses on fire at the same time, and I got my doughnuts and coffee, now I’m going home,” said McKenzie.
Fire Chief Gordon Henderson succeeded McKenzie when he retired in 2008. He recalled McKenzie as a workhorse who put himself through Berry College by working in the dairy and credited his experience as a radio operator in the Army for fostering a love of technology that he spread throughout the department.
“He looked 10 to 15 years ahead of today to see what might be coming up in the future and the fire services and trying to start working towards applying that now,” said Henderson. “He worked to keep us sort of on the cutting edge and where we didn’t get behind the curve.”
McKenzie was promoted to chief the morning of Dec. 21, 1990, taking the place of retired Chief Carl Green. He told the Rome News-Tribune in a phone interview from his office that he looked forward to the opportunity and he had prepared himself for the job over time.
“The chief’s job does not take him to the end of the nozzle, the end of the hose,” McKenzie said. “The job keeps him well back, but he has got to know the rigors that the people are experiencing out on the hose line to make sure that you have people out there who are prepared. … I look forward to facing that challenge.”
McKenzie is preceeded in death by his son Bobbie McKenzie Jr. He is survived by his wife Lynda McKenzie, who he was married to for 51 years, his son Bo McKenzie and his grandchildren.