Veteran Firefighter Named Ocean City’s New Fire Chief

first_imgFrom left, Ocean City Police Sgt. Brian Hopely, Upper Township Emergency Management Coordinator Scott Morgan, Ocean City’s Fire Chief Jim Smith (Deputy Chief at the time) and Ocean City Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Donato help train the CERT members, last year. By Donald WittkowskiWhen it comes to being a good firefighter, Jim Smith has read the book. It was written by his father, the author of a highly regarded textbook on fire safety.Smith, who joined the Ocean City Fire Department 22 years ago, hopes to use all that knowledge as its new chief. He was promoted to the top position Monday by Mayor Jay Gillian.Following in the footsteps of his father, Smith said he always wanted to become a firefighter. His father, James Smith, served with the Philadelphia Fire Department for 41 years and rose to the rank of deputy fire chief.His father, now retired from the Philadelphia Fire Department, is a nationally recognized speaker and expert in fire safety. He is the author of the textbook “Strategic & Tactical Considerations on the Fireground,” considered a must-read for high-ranking fire officers.“My dad’s the real deal. He understands the job,” Smith said in an interview Monday after his appointment was announced by the city.Smith, 47, said he intends to call on his father’s knowledge and experience from time to time as he grows into the role of fire chief.During his two decades with the Ocean City Fire Department, Smith has also acquired his own high level of expertise. He attained the rank of captain in 2004 and was promoted to deputy fire chief in 2012.City spokesman Doug Bergen said Smith was the top choice among the candidates considered for the chief’s job. The city followed Civil Service guidelines and conducted its own interviews to make the selection.“We’re looking forward to having someone with so much experience. He’s a great guy, and we expect great things from him,” Bergen said of Smith.Smith succeeds former Fire Chief Chris Breunig, who retired Nov. 1. His appointment is considered provisional pending a brief review period and approval by City Council.The Fire Department includes 59 full-time firefighters and three firehouses. Smith will oversee the opening of a new $2.1 million fire station at 29th Street and West Avenue, which is expected to be completed by Memorial Day weekend.Smith said he doesn’t plan on making sweeping changes within the department. But he noted that he does want to strengthen ties with the local community through a series of outreach programs, including holding more open houses at the fire stations and having firefighters meet with the public.“One thing we could get better at is our outreach to the community,” he said.Operationally, Smith said the Ocean City Fire Department ranks among the best departments in the state. He characterized the employees as top-notch.However, he said the city must prepare in the next five years for the retirement of as many as 15 fire officers. More immediately, he has to pick a new deputy fire chief to fill the vacancy created by his promotion.For the time being, Smith will continue to earn his deputy chief’s salary of $137,430. The fire chief’s maximum base salary is set by city ordinance at $126,554.However, Bergen said the Gillian administration is going to consider changing the salary ordinance for city department heads in coming months to let Smith keep his current salary instead of having to take a pay cut. A change in the salary ordinance would need the approval of City Council.City department heads, including the fire chief, are usually granted 1.25 percent annual raises by Council to match pay hikes given to other municipal employees who are under contract.In an unusual request that was rejected by the city, Breunig, when he was fire chief, sought a demotion to deputy chief in 2015 to try to increase his salary.Deputy fire chiefs make higher salaries than the chief’s base salary because their pay is negotiated through collective bargaining.last_img

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