Battalion Chief Michael Arena retired Friday, June 30 after more than three decades with Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue. Most recently, he led Battalion 2, overseeing the nine fire-rescue stations serving the western communities.
Arena was presented with a proclamation during the Wellington Village Council meeting on Tuesday, June 27, recognizing his years of service with PBCFR and to the Village of Wellington.
On Friday, friends, family and colleagues gathered at the Village Golf Club in Royal Palm Beach to celebrate with Arena. Among those in attendance were members of Arena’s family, including his wife Laura, son Michael and daughter Cristina. His daughter Angela was unable to attend.
Also there to honor Arena were former Wellington Mayor Tom Wenham, a retired PBCFR official; Fire Chief Jeff Collins, Division Chief Chris Hoch, Division Chief Jerry Cooper, Division Chief Nigel Baker, Battalion Chief Sam Eaton, Battalion Chief Kevin Shaw, District Chief Doug McGlynn and District Chief Javatis Midget.
“It was great having everyone here,” Arena said. “Lots of familiar faces — many of whom I’ve worked with since the very beginning. It was a great celebration. We have a great organization. It was really touching to be part of it all of these years.”
Arena began serving with the U.S. Coast Guard on July 18, 1985. He started with PBCFR in 1986. Throughout the years, he met many people, touched many lives and held various positions within the countywide organization.
Though Arena is now retired, he will still be visible in the community.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “It’s exciting, but at the same time, it’s a big part of your life. I’ve been doing this since I was 19. This is a big part of my life, but I’ll be in the area, and I’ve got a lot of things planned.”
During the party, colleagues reminisced about their experiences with Arena and presented him with gifts, including a golden ax and a framed letter of recognition.
Shaw served as master of ceremonies for the evening, sharing stories and inside jokes, and leading the gentle roasting.
Collins thanked everyone for attending and recognized the many retirees in the crowd.
“There’s a reason Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue is as great as it is today, and it is because of all of your hard work and dedication,” Collins said. “So, I just wanted to thank all of you retirees for putting this fire-rescue department together. I’m telling you, we are on the map. We are one of the greatest fire-rescue departments in the country.”
Collins thanked Arena for his efforts, particularly in setting up the fire-rescue system in Belle Glade.
“If you look at a model of what an employee is supposed to do… I can tell you, Mike value-added to this department every day, and it’s going to carry on for many, many years,” Collins said. “Mike Arena, you always get it done, and I thank you for everything you’ve done for Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue.”
Arena took to the microphone to thank attendees for their hard work. “It has been an honor and a privilege just to be a part of that, and to watch this department grow over the last 31 years. It has been quite a journey,” Arena said.
Union officials Eddie O’Berry, Jeff Newsome, José Gonzales and Joel Brier came up to present Arena with a golden ax.
Arena started as a firefighter, then an emergency medical technician (EMT) and paramedic. He was a station officer and an EMS lieutenant before becoming a chief.
Arena earned his master’s degree in public administration from Barry University and an associate’s degree in fire and emergency medical services from Palm Beach State College. He is also a graduate of the FEMA Executive Fire Officer program and is accredited as a Chief Fire Officer by the International Fire Chiefs Association, among many other honors.