Chiefland taps new fire chief

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By Jeff M. Hardison

After the interviews of three candidates for Chiefland Fire Chief on Oct. 23 and 25, interim Chief John Ward was the only man who passed the test enough for a background check to be performed on him.

Therefore, after the 5 p.m. start of the Nov. 13 meeting of the Chiefland City Commission, Ward is most likely to be named as chief. The pay range is between $34,648 and $41,200.

Christopher Thomas of Clearwater had most of the qualifications required, except that he has been inactive since 2005 when he suffered a back injury and retired from the Dunedin Fire Rescue Department.

"I can't jump off and fight fires any more," Thomas said.

Chiefland City Commissioner J. Rollin Hudson Jr. said after the interview the department requires a working fire chief to be able to fight fires as well as manage the budget, recruit volunteers and direct operations.

The only other contender was David Knowles of Hawthorne. Commissioner Teresa Barron said she saw him as a possible future fire chief too, because he had the experience, education and training.

Commissioner W.S. "Sammy" Cason said he thinks Ward is the man for the job, because he knows the area well, having been born here and spent all 32 years of his life here. This post is "not just a stepping stone," Cason and the other commission members agreed.

Ward told the City Commission he sees the department growing as the town becomes larger. Ever since he joined as a volunteer 14 years ago, Ward said he wanted to one day be at the top of the department. His service as a firefighter in Gainesville, he said, took him away from his family in the Chiefland area too much.

So, he went back to farming. He worked for Murray Tillis as well as served as a volunteer with Chiefland Fire Rescue. He has completed all but a semester's work on his Associate of Arts degree. He is a certified firefighter II and a Paramedic. With another eight hours of classes, he can become certified to teach firefighting.

As for his budgeting experience, Ward noted he was raised on a farm. At the Tillis farm, he served as a manager as well as a farm worker. And all the way back to his days in Future Farmers of America, he learned about business management, Ward said.

Mayor M. Teal Pomeroy led the two days of interviews. Commissioner Frank Buie was in the hospital, and was unable to participate.

The official announcement of Ward being the new fire chief is slated to be Nov. 13 at 5 p.m., barring any unexpected results from the background check of Ward.