Treasure Island Fire Chief Charlie Fant is retiring Jan. 3.
TREASURE ISLAND – Charlie Fant still vividly recalls his high school days when he and his buddy, Tom Dusil, used to chase Treasure Island fire trucks to their destination.
It was the beginning of what eventually became a stellar 41-year fire rescue career with the city of Treasure Island, which will come to end on Jan. 3 when he retires.
“I’m looking forward to off-loading some of the responsibility,” said Fant, the son of former Treasure Island Mayor Julian Fant. “I’m ready. Hopefully I’m going out on a positive note.”
“He’ll be missed,” said City Manager Reid Silverboard. “He served as interim city manager (in 2004 and 2007) much longer than he wanted to. I know I will certainly miss him.”
City Commissioners Phil Collins and Gail Caldwell also expressed similar sentiments at a Dec. 6 City Commission meeting.
“I feel sad to see him go,” said Collins.
“I offer my congratulations to Mr. Fant,” said Caldwell. “He and his family are fixtures in our community.”
“A big thanks to Charlie Fant,” said Mayor Bob Minning.
Shortly after those early years as a fire engine chaser, Fant and Dusil became volunteers for the fire department.
Back in those days, the city’s fire department was staffed by one full-time firefighter per shift who was aided by the chief and community volunteers when an emergency surfaced.
Two years later, at age 20, Fant was hired on a part-time basis.
“Then, in late September or early October of 1972, the department went from one (firefighter) per shift to three and (Dusil) and I went full time,” Fant said. “That boosted the department from three members to nine with a chief.”
At the same time, the position of fire lieutenant was created to supervise each of the three shifts. Fant was selected as one of those three.
Eight years later, at age 28, he was named fire chief by former city manager Pete Lombardi.
“We’ve been pretty stable and consistent all along,” Fant said. “That’s why I’ve stayed.
“It’s a nice community to live and work in,” he added. “I can be out in front of the station and when people come by, they wave. I like that aspect of it.”
During his early years, Fant was on the edge of EMT training and was a member of one of the first classes at St. Petersburg Junior College to certify emergency medical technicians.
His class was No. 1 at the Pinellas County Fire Academy in the summer of 1972 and he was among the first few hundreds of firefighters that came on the job at the time in Florida that became certified firefighters.
During his early years, Treasure Island was also on the cusp of advanced life support procedures.
“We were the first ALS providers in Pinellas and one of the first in the state of Florida,” Fant said. “We had a hospital-based radio and could talk directly with the hospital staff as we were transporting a patient, just like on the television show ‘Emergency.’”
Fant also saw the implementation of the county’s 911 system, which started in the mid-1970s and culminated with the opening of the county’s 911 communications center in the late 1980s.
Other firsts attributed to Fant and the Treasure Island Fire Department include:
• First use in the county of blue highway reflectors to indicate a fire hydrant.
• First use in the county of a “keybox” system for access to condos and high-rise residences,
• First to coordinate staffing, equipment and budgets after countywide EMS service was approved in 1980.
Fant was also part of the Pinellas County Fire Chiefs Association committee in 1986 that developed an automatic aid agreement with the county’s 18 fire departments to provide backup service to a primary responder. Under terms of the agreement, the closest available units respond.
A fire in Treasure Island would draw four firefighters and an engine from the city, as well as two pumpers and a pair of ladder trucks from adjoining communities.
As an emergency manager, Fant has had his share of cats up a tree, dogs in the bay and even a bird stuck in a chimney. But one incident sticks in his mind.
It occurred in early 1973 when four women from Canada were lifted up in a car on the Treasure Island Causeway bridge.
“The gate went down, the driver panicked and hit the gas, then backed up and the front wheels went off the edge. The bridge was at a 45-degree angle when the bridge tender got it stopped,” said Fant. “We stabilized the car and then brought in a snorkel truck to take the ladies out of the car and transport them to the hospital. There were no injuries.”
There were a couple of plane crashes – one in Boca Ciega Bay off the Isle of Palms in the early 1990s that killed four passengers on board and another off the beach that killed the pilot.
Through the years, Fant said, the city has experienced only three fire-related deaths.
But the worse fires did not claim any lives, he said.
Fant still recalls an early morning blaze on the south end of Sunset Beach in 1994 when a small cottage caught on fire and it spread to two adjoining homes.
“Units from eight different departments and 50 firefighters responded to keep it from spreading further,” said Fant, “And we did.”
So what will he miss most?
“Chasing the fire truck,” Fant said. “When you do it for 41 years, it’s hard to break from it. But I’ve got plenty of things to do. I’m just not doing this any more.”