Union County fire marshal receives Order of the Long Leaf Pine

Union County Fire Marshal Neal Speer has been awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest civilian honor.

Speer, 58, retired Friday as the county’s longest serving fire marshal. He began that job in July 2003, and has worked in the fire fighting field since early 1981.

He received the award, which is bestowed by the governor, at a commissioner’s meeting this month. State Reps. Dean Arp and Mark Brody presented the award to Speer, which they said was in recognition of his years of service.

Speer said he had no idea he was getting the award. “I was just told I needed to be there,” he said. He called it an honor to receive the award.

Speer laughed and said he was talking about it with some friends, and not sure if he deserved an award that also has been handed out to the likes of Michael Jordan, the Rev. Billy Graham and Richard Petty.

Speer became a member of the Unionville Fire Department in 1981. He also has worked in the Monroe Fire Department and served as the county’s emergency management coordinator.

Speer also has been a member of the Catawba Nuclear Task Force since 2003.

He said the best part of his job was simply trying to make the county a safer place for its residents.