Payson is a land of opportunity for Mike Winters -- the opportunity to make a safer place; the opportunity to reach out to residents and educate them about the services available to them through the fire department and other public safety agencies.
Winters joined the Payson Fire Department on Dec. 15 as its fire marshal.
"I had 17 years with the Rural Metro Fire Department, serving Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and Fountain Hills," Winters said.
He applied for the Payson post because he was tired of living in the Valley.
"I grew up in a small community and wanted to get back to it," Winter said. "I also wanted to get to a cooler climate. This opened up, so I went for it."
While with Rural Metro, Winters served as a firefighter, deputy fire marshal, district chief and fire marshal.
Before joining the fire service, he worked in admissions at Scottsdale Memorial Hospital and also was an aerospace parts machinist.
Winters became a firefighter by just responding to an advertisement.
"It was back in the old days when getting on with fire departments was not as competitive as it is today," Winters said. "I saw an ad in the paper, went to a meeting and was hired."
Since he has been on the job a little more than two months, Winters has had a chance to become acquainted with the rewards and challenges of his work in the Rim country.
"I think there's an opportunity to make a positive impact because of the community's diversity," Winters said. "We have the gamut from affluent areas to those in need of attention. I want to make those older areas safer, and that is also one of the challenges of the job.
"Coming from a large metro area, with only fire code enforcement where there are newer buildings, and then having the older areas here; it's a challenge to work within that structure," he said.
Winters has also identified some tasks he would like to tackle as Payson's fire marshal.
"We need some public education to raise awareness of fire danger," Winters said.
He added there is also a need for outreach into the Hispanic community of Payson.
"There are a lot of public education programs I'd like to get in place for the residents, so they know the services available to them from the fire department and other public safety entities."
In his off hours, Winters enjoys reading histories and biographies. But don't think that makes him the stuffy sort.
"I'm a huge Rolling Stones fan." he said. "I have every album they ever made, just about every book written about them."
Winters said his move to Payson has been a wonderful experience.
"Everyone has been fantastic and helpful."
He and his wife are moving into their Payson home next week, leaving their two daughters behind to finish their schooling. Winters said he is looking forward to a slower pace, but he also interested in doing more for his fellow residents.
"Just pick up the phone and call if you have (fire code) questions," he said. "It's so much easier to do it (right) on the front end than to come back and change it after it's finished. I'm willing to meet people at their business, their home, anywhere they want to discuss the issues they might have."
To reach Winters, call (928) 474-5242, extension No. 3.