Vance Cooper retired Dec. 31 as fire marshal for Fort Bend County.
The next day he was back in the saddle.
With 16 years as fire marshal under his belt, Cooper called it a career but agreed to stay on as the interim fire marshal until his replacement is hired. He began his firefighting career in 1970 with the Wallis Volunteer Fire Department. Two years later he became a paid professional firefighter in Spring Branch. He has been employed by Fort Bend County for 22 years, the last 16 as the chief fire investigator.
"The first day I came to work the fire marshal handed me a stack of 25 cases to review that he had stacked up," Cooper recalled. "I did good to open up each one."
Now, Cooper can't begin to recall the number of cases he has investigated in the past two-plus decades. He does recall some of the bigger ones, such as the Needville High School fire in 2007 and the 2003 case of a Sugar Land woman who killed her quadriplegic husband in a house fire. What stands out to him are the relationships he built along the way. He is especially fond of the members of the federal government's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"One of the highlights of my career has been working with the federal agency and building relationships with them," he said.
He credits the ATF with solving the Sugar land homicide and getting a conviction in court.
"They have the same expertise, but they can bring in people from all across the United States who have seen things we have never seen," he said.
Cooper said it always bothered him as a peace officer that the criminals could work around the clock, but his investigations had to halt when the work whistle blew.
"Arson goes from being the most intriguing to the most frustrating work," he said.
Going into retirement at age 62, Cooper said he will not bring any regrets with him.
"There's a lot of cases out there that are undetermined, but none of them haunt me," he said. "There are some I'm concerned about I believe I've done the best I can with the resources I have."
The county held a retirement party for him in December. He leaves the office with a lot of respect.
"Vance has served us well and has provided outstanding service to our community. We will miss him and wish him well in his retirement," said County Judge Robert Hebert.
Cooper holds a master's certification in firefighting, arson investigation, fire inspection as well as peace officer. He has won many awards including the Roscoe Gibson Award for excellence in fire prevention, awarded by the Texas Fire Marshal's Association; and the Life Membership Award, given by the Texas Chapter of Arson Investigators.
In his retirement, Cooper plans to spend time with his two grandchildren and "enjoying cowboying." He said he likes working cattle for a friend and recently built a chuck wagon and has gotten into cast iron cooking. On the side he has been doing leatherwork and woodwork. He sells some of his creations on his website at www.vtcooper.com.
"I think if we all slow down and enjoy our life and our God we would enjoy life a lot more," he said.