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A Day in the Life of fire chiefs

As part of our series on the duties and responsibilities of municipal employees, we spoke with five fire chiefs from across the state. In recent years, all of these chiefs have been forced to do more with limited funding, while facing growing demands for safety in a post-9/11 world.

City of Greer Fire Chief Christopher Harvey has spent his entire career at the department and has served as chief since 1996. 
 

Chief Christopher Harvey
City of Greer Fire Chief Chris Harvey (right) chats with department members following the city's Safety Breakfast hosted by the committee Chief Harvey chairs. From left are Kevin Miller, Vernon Jameson, and Capt. Bobby James. The department's new truck recognizes Chief Harvey's service to the city as he prepares for retirement.
 
At the Mauldin Fire Department, Russell Sapp has served as the fire chief for 10 years. He has been employed with Mauldin for 25 years, previously serving as fire marshal in charge of code enforcement and inspections. He also served as fire chief of the Belton Fire Department for two years.
 
New Mauldin Fire Station
Mauldin Fire and Rescue celebrated the grand opening and dedication of the newest
fire station in March 2012. Chief Russell Sapp cuts the ribbon during the ceremony.
 
 

Georgetown Fire Department Chief Joseph Tanner is a third generation fire chief--his father is the current chief in Johnsonville and his grandfather was the chief prior to him. Tanner has been in the fire service for 35 years, starting out as a volunteer with the Johnsonville Volunteer Fire Department. He has been working for the City of Georgetown for 30 years and has been the fire chief for the past 16.

Fire Chief Joseph Tanner
Fire Chief Joseph Tanner, City of Georgetown 

 

Conway Fire Chief Ricky Baker has been in his current position for about six years. He retired from fire service in the state of North Carolina with more than 30 years of service, including 16 years as fire chief. 

Fire Chief Ricky Baker
Fire Chief Ricky Baker, City of Conway
 

Isle of Palms Fire Department Chief Ann Graham joined the fire service as a volunteer with Sullivan's Island Fire Department in 1982. She has been with the Isle of Palms Fire Department since 1985 and was promoted to fire chief in 1994, making her the first female fire chief in the state.

These chiefs agreed that there have been many improvements over the years in firefighter training and apparatus. These days firefighters get more training and are more prepared than ever before. The equipment has improved and the prices have increased. Graham said the price of a fire truck has skyrocketed.

"There is more of an emphasis placed on the safety and survival of the firefighter, and it is built into their protective clothing, their radios, and their breathing apparatus and into the managing of the incidents that we respond to," Tanner said.

Through the years, the scope of the job has changed. Firefighters have gone from mainly answering fire calls to responding to specialized medical and rescue calls.

These days, Harvey said, his department personnel are trained in areas of confined space, hazardous materials, swift water rescue, trench rescue, and heavy rescue for emergencies such as train derailments and tractor trailer crashes.

There is a greater focus today on risk management, safety and OSHA compliance, with fire chiefs in many cities responsible for these areas for all city departments.

Many things have changed since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Firefighters are now faced with more OSHA and FEMA requirements, including training on terrorist threats. The attacks also led to greater awareness of the need for local and state agencies to cooperate and function jointly during disasters, Harvey said.

Since 9/11, people are showing a greater appreciation of the services they receive from firefighters. Respect also grew for public safety personnel after the terror attacks, leading to a new found interest for many to join the fire service, Graham said.

Baker remembers that firefighters began talking about terrorism training in the late 1980s, but at that time there were lots of questions about why it was necessary. After 9/11 occurred, it became clear just why it was needed. Now firefighters train on a variety of potential threats just to be prepared for any possibility, he said.

Graham also has seen some changes for women in the field.

"From my point of view, I believe that women are more accepted in the fire service now than when I joined. However, it is up to each individual to prove themselves in order to gain respect from others that is needed to truly fit in," she said. "Uniforms and gear fit some women better than they did in the past. I believe that most men in the fire service are more respectful of women in the fire service whether they accept them or not."

Sapp said his job is toughest at budget time when he makes requests to increase manpower. More manpower is required to adequately complete the job with enough personnel to ensure that everyone is safe, he added. Still, Sapp enjoys promoting the fire department and delivering the fire prevention programs used to teach children and adults to be more fire safe.

"I also enjoy the brotherhood the fire service represents and how everyone is family and takes care of one another," Sapp said.