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Fire chief retires after 24 years
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Dunedin Fire Chief C. “Bud” Meyer is retiring in January after 24 years as chief.
Dunedin Deputy Chief Jeffrey Parks has been selected from a national search to become the new fire chief when Chief C. “Bud” Meyer retires.
DUNEDIN – Dunedin will soon say goodbye to Fire Chief C. “Bud” Meyer, 67, after 24 years as chief and 20 years before that with Clearwater Fire and Rescue.

Meyer’s last day will be Jan. 9, leaving behind a completely different department than the one he took on. Current Deputy Chief Jeffrey Parks will take over as chief in Meyer’s place.

Chief Bud Meyer

When Meyer began his whole career in fire services, it was a different animal.

“I started in 1965, I joined the Air Force and worked in fire crash rescue for four years,” Meyer said. “Then I came home in ’69 and started with Clearwater for 20 years there and came here for 24. And the fire service I joined in Pinellas County, we didn’t have 911. We had seven-digit phone numbers we advertised. We didn’t do EMS. Clearwater was very proud of the fact that all of our firefighters were Red Cross First Aid trained. So we were at the same level of first aid that the Boy Scouts were doing, basically.”

As EMS evolved, it was contracted out in Dunedin to an outside agency. Therefore, the biggest change in Meyer’s time as head of the Dunedin department is that he helped bring EMS back in-house. In 1996, the fire department took it on as a major part of its duties.

“Now it’s basically 80, 90 percent of what we do,” Meyer said. “Bringing that back to fire services was a really big deal.”

The other major accomplishment Meyer recalls of his Dunedin career is getting Fire Station 62 on Belcher Road built, also in 1996. This significantly improved response times in the city, he said. He is also very proud of the ISO insurance rating the department has achieved. There is a very tough, 10-point scale, with 1 being the best, and Dunedin is ranked as a 2, he said. That makes the Dunedin department in the top 2 percent in the country.

City Manager Rob DiSpirito said that Meyer has been an incredible asset to the city and has ensured that the department stays current on technology and practices.

“I think he’s certainly modernized the department in his tenure,” DiSpirito said. “There were a lot of things done differently 24 years ago. I was only here for five of those 24, but I think he has kept up on protocols and emergency response philosophies and practices, and I know he has kept us current and just bringing us into the modern age. I think there’s been a huge contribution on the part of the chief in his leadership.”

Meyer also marvels at how much fire services has evolved in his whole career.

“All of the equipment we have now and the air packs, when you compare what we have today with when I first started, what we had back then was pretty crude,” Meyer said. “The equipment has been greatly improved. It’s like night and day. We still went to the fires and put the fires out, but the whole process has really changed.”

Most of these technology improvements directly relate to firefighters’ safety, he said.

“It allows us to do our job safer, quicker, faster, with an end result of us being able to get to the scene quicker, we can control the fire faster, so instead of having a house burn completely down, we can get there when the fire is still really small. Smoke detectors are another technology that really developed over my career. We really didn’t have them when I started in Pinellas County. Today we have them in all our homes, and the lives that that has saved is just unbelievable. We’re getting the location of the fire very, very early, so when we get there we have a very small fire to deal with.”

One of the biggest challenges Meyer says he’s faced as fire chief has actually been the budget shortfall in recent years. It is hard to keep cutting yet still provide the same, quality services, he said. There have been many operational budget cuts, they have lost a fire inspector’s position, and most recently, the fire marshal’s position was eliminated but they gained an inspector’s position, he said. This will be one of the biggest challenges Parks will face when he takes on the position of chief, he said.

Other challenges will be to keep on top of the ever-changing technology, Meyer said, and to keep expanding new service whenever possible. Already, this could be on the horizon.

“EMS, we have countywide studies going on right now and how transport should be done,” Meyer said. “One possibility they’re looking at is for firefighters to do transport. I think that would be natural for us to do because we’re already out there. Our people already do it on their days off. So it’s not something that would be strange for us to do, and we see that firefighters doing transport works all over the country. Even in Pasco County, Hillsborough County, Tampa Fire, they’re all doing fire department transport, so that’s something on the horizon that could be a big change even in the next year or two.”

Meyer said he does not regret one thing about being fire chief. He always enjoyed coming to work, even when it was challenging. But now he looks forward to retirement. The time felt right, he said, and he wanted to retire when he is still young enough to take advantage of it. He and his wife, Melody, are going to sell their house and build a new one in Clay County, near where their daughter lives in Jacksonville. They want to travel more to places they love, like Colorado, where they will ski, bike, hike, and enjoy the mountains, and they also want to travel to places they have never been. They also have a son who lives locally, and they have one grandchild named Sierra, who is 10.

New Chief Jeffrey Parks

Meyer said he is excited about his successor, Jeff Parks, who has worked as deputy chief in Dunedin since September 2007. After doing a national search, the city and DiSpirito decided that Parks was the most qualified for the job.

“I think he’s going to do a great job,” Meyer said. “He has been in the fire service for a long time here in Pinellas County and he has a real good understanding of the services that we are providing. I’m sure he’s going to be able to move the department on and do some wonderful things for us. We did do a national advertisement and we narrowed that process down to four candidates that were interviewed by the city manager and a couple of department heads, and Jeff just did a great job.”

Meyer said with Parks’s education, certifications and experience, he clearly was the best candidate, and he is glad to see him become the next fire chief.

DiSpirito was ultimately in charge of hiring him, and he thinks he will do an excellent job for the department.

“He had the best combination of relevant experience, education, and I think a very compelling vision for the department,” DiSpirito said. “On the experience end, he has – unlike a good number of the applicants – served as a chief previously when he was in East Lake. So he has actually done the job before. He has also been a fire marshal and overseen an inspection bureau, which is important in this district. He has also worked for us for five years in this capacity as deputy.”

DiSpirito added that he and the city have had time to evaluate Parks in action, and he has done a very good job and has proven to be hard working, loyal and an accepted employee with the department.

Parks said it is an honor to be chosen for this position.

“I appreciate it,” Parks said. “It’s hard to follow in the chief’s footsteps. He has definitely been a legacy here for many years and it will be hard to follow behind him, but I’m anxious and excited and hopefully we can continue the tradition here.”

Parks began his education with getting an AS degree in EMS and an AS degree in fire science from Pasco-Hernando Community College. He later went to Eckerd College and got his bachelor’s degree through doing night classes, and then went to Detroit University to get his master’s degree in public administration. Parks is nationally certified as a fire chief/fire officer, has gone to the National Fire Academy and through the Executive Fire Officer program, which is a four-year program, and he is also a Florida paramedic.

His career in fire service began in 1983, working with the Tarpon Springs Fire Department, and then he moved to East Lake Fire Rescue in 1984, as a firefighter/paramedic.

”When I retired there in 2005, I was fire chief, and then I went to Pasco Fire and Rescue for almost three years as their administrative chief and then got hired here as deputy chief in 2007,” Parks said.

Coming to Dunedin was a good move, he said, because he got a pay raise but was going from a department of 400 people to one with 55.

“It’s a lot easier to go to three stations than it is to 25 stations,” Parks said, making it easier to manage everything effectively.

Parks said he knows that the first major challenge that he will face as fire chief is dealing with the tight budget – trying to do more with less, maintain the same level of service and not have to raise taxes to do so.

Another major, immediate task is overseeing building of Fire Station 61, the process of which is already under way.

One great asset that the Dunedin Fire Department has, Parks said, is how well everyone gets along and works together. There is not a clash between labor and management, which can sometimes happen, and that helps things move smoothly, he said. What will be an initial challenge, though, he said, is that the department is undergoing reorganization, with a lot of new faces.

Meyer has been chief for so long, it will be an adjustment for everybody now that he won’t be in the other room and readily available to answer any questions as they arise, Parks said. There also will be other personnel moving into the administrative office who are used to firefighter shifts instead of the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. office job, he said.

“Right now, I have been operations chief for five years and we have an EMS division chief who’s been here for over 15 years, but the training chief retired, so we have an interim person,” Parks said. “We will have an interim person in the deputy chief spot. So we are kind of new and upcoming. They are being brought in off of being on the shifts their whole career, so moving into the 8-to-5 job. It’s a different atmosphere. You’re used to getting up for a 24-hour work day and then having a few days off.”

Along with that, Parks said that administration will need to spend the winter brushing up on emergency management skills, so everyone new to the office knows exactly how to run the department and respond during a hurricane or other disaster.

“We’ve had a great teacher here,” Parks said. “Chief Meyer has done a great job with the department in his time here, and I’ve learned a lot from him, so hopefully I can carry on the tradition that he’s established.”

DiSpirito is confident that the department is in good hands and is generally very impressed with the high caliber of the department.

“(Those in the Dunedin Fire Department) are terrific public servants, are selfless and dedicated to the public safety,” DiSpirito said. “I’ve just found such a high caliber of employees throughout the department. I’ve worked in a lot of cities, and I continue to be impressed by them. … As a resident myself, I certainly sleep more soundly at night knowing these men and women are on duty 24/7.”
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