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Charlottesville hires new fire chief

Charlottesville has hired Hezedean A. Smith as its new fire chief.

Smith, whose appointment was announced Monday, will start Dec. 1.

Smith, 51, comes to the city after 24 years with the Orlando Fire Department in Orlando, Florida, where he was most recently assistant chief. His salary will be $162,000, making him the third-highest paid city employee behind Interim City Manager John Blair and Police Chief RaShall Brackney.

Blair said Smith will be “a true asset to our community.”

Smith is a Jamaican immigrant from Lucea, Jamaica, in the Montego Bay area. He moved to Orlando, Florida, in 1982 when his mother retired from the military.

In a virtual press conference, Smith highlighted the importance of collaboration across jurisdictional lines and with the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad.

Another of Smith’s key objectives is allowing staff to feel they have a voice in the department.

Smith also emphasized the needs of firefighters as employees, particularly in mental health.

“One of the most important things is a firefighter’s mental health and safety,” he said. “We need to ensure that we provide the most important and the most available and comprehensive mental health initiatives for our firefighters.”

Smith, who was selected out of 46 applicants, has more than 32 years of experience in emergency services and public safety.

He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1988 and served as a medical service specialist and emergency medical technician.

In previous positions with the Orlando Fire Department, he was responsible for EMS operations, fire department information and technology, EMS budget oversight, 911 Communications Center, EMS grants, service delivery, ambulance accreditation, education, and training.

Smith earned a doctorate of management and master’s in organizational management from the University of Phoenix. He has associate degrees in emergency medical services and fire science from Valencia College.

Smith is credentialed by the Center for Public Safety Excellence as a chief fire officer and chief EMS officer. He is a certified public manager and previously completed the Executive Fire and Emergency Services Officer program at the University of Florida.

Smith is also the CEO of Global Emergency Services Consulting Group, a firm focusing on research, strategic planning and training.

Smith is a part-time faculty member at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which has campuses in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Langley, and Columbia Southern University in Orange Beach, Alabama. He also taught EMS at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, for more than 15 years.

“He has expressed a commitment to transformational leadership,” Mayor Nikuyah Walker said in a press release. “I appreciate Dr. Smith’s thoughtful inquiry during the interview process and his ability to articulate the core values that define his leadership style. I look forward to serving the Charlottesville community with him.”

Smith said overtime costs need to be managed, but the department must maintain a commitment to a high level of service. Staffing, pay, training and equipment “are the cornerstone to providing long-term sustainability,” he said.

The department, which operates out of three stations and has 95 personnel, recently received a federal grant to address critical staffing needs, but is facing ongoing stress as emergency calls continue to rise.

Smith will replace former Fire Chief Andrew Baxter, who resigned in the summer in the culmination of ongoing disputes with former City Manager Tarron Richardson.

Baxter, who took over as fire chief in 2015 after 20 years in Henrico County, was one of the few remaining city leaders who served during the deadly Unite the Right rally in 2017. Under his leadership, the department earned accreditation through an international agency and received other honors. Baxter’s salary was $148,304.

Deputy Chief Emily Pelliccia, who has been with the department since 1994, was appointed interim chief after Baxter’s resignation.


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