Chief Craig Maciuba is officially Palm Harbor Rescue’s new chief as of Nov. 7, taking over for former Chief James Angle.
PALM HARBOR – Fire Chief Craig Maciuba, who recently took over the helm of the Palm Harbor Fire Rescue, has been with the organization since he joined as a volunteer almost 30 years ago.
Since that time, Palm Harbor Fire District and its force of firefighters have grown with the community they protect. And Maciuba, who initially thought he might be a police officer instead, grew up along with it. The personnel he now oversees are his family, both in the literal and figurative sense of the word.
“I love this department, love the people, and love the community. I grew up with it, so it’s kind of my baby,” said Maciuba, now 47. “It’s near and dear to me.”
The district was made up of only two stations when he started, and Palm Harbor itself was mostly orange groves, he said.
“Now we’re four stations, very busy, (serving) 60,000 or so residents,” he said. “We’ve gotten far more professional and technical.”
Maciuba applied to be a volunteer firefighter on his 18th birthday: Sept. 17, 1984.
“It seemed like something interesting and community-driven, so I figured I’d throw my hat in,” he recalled.
Exactly 29 years later, Chief James Angle walked into Maciuba’s office to tell him he had accepted a position as programs director for the St. Petersburg College Fire Training Center. It wasn’t really the birthday gift Maciuba had been hoping for.
“I prepared myself in my experience and education to be the chief. I’m not sure I ever really wanted to be the chief, but it just turned out that way,” he said.
Maciuba, Angle’s deputy chief since 2006, was quickly named interim chief. After interviewing him, and at Angle’s recommendation, the fire district commissioners hired Maciuba as chief, allowing him to officially take over as soon as Angle left on Nov. 7.
The new position has been challenging, Maciuba said. He finds the political part of the job, “somewhat uncomfortable,” an element that he hasn’t had to deal with since his days as union president.
“It’s just been different,” he said. “I’m enjoying it, but it’s certainly had its challenges.”
Angle’s community presence is particularly difficult to live up to. Trying to maintain relationships he had with “every community group that you could imagine” is extremely time-consuming, Maciuba said.
“I’ve never been the greatest at names to begin with. I get cards from everybody, and try to write notes,” he said.
And he’s been busy handling the fire organization’s internal issues. Maciuba and his team recently completed its re-accreditation process, an “unbelievable effort,” he said. Also, discussions and negotiations have begun with the county in regards to Emergency Medical Services funding. Palm Harbor Fire Rescue, like any other governmental organization in Florida, has struggled since the downturn in the economy in 2008.
“We’re roughly $3 million below what we were, say in 2008 or 2007. So we’ve had to reduce our numbers significantly,” Maciuba said.
The organization’s operating budget, a little more than $8.5 million in the current fiscal year, supports 60 firefighters and support employees, eight less than it did in 2008.
Palm Harbor Fire Rescue also is unique in that there is no local government supporting it. It’s funded through a property tax special district and overseen by an elected board of five commissioners. That has pluses and negatives, Maciuba said.
“Our budget is our budget. We don’t have to fight with parks and rec or the police department or anything like that,” he said.
On the other hand, the four main administrative employees, including Maciuba, handle everything from personnel and legal issues to benefits and finances.
“We do far more than the average city fire department,” he said.
The chief reports directly to the commissioners, a process that “works very well,” he added.
“For the most part, our commission has been pretty stable, because there’s been no controversy within the community about the fire department,” he said.
Maciuba intends to keep it that way, planning no “crazy changes” as he adjusts to the top position, he said.
“We have had – for many, many years when we started the accreditation process – a strategic plan for the organization,” he explained. “That plan has kept us financially stable and on course and is still providing what I think is the best service for the buck you can get.”
The re-accreditation process allowed the organization to reexamine its operations and update the plan.
Maciuba met his wife, Dawn, through Palm Harbor Fire Rescue. She started working there before Maciuba did, in fact, serving as its administrative assistant until after the couple had their second child. She still works part-time, and Maciuba said it’s beneficial to him that she understands the demands of what he does.
“She’s very familiar with what it takes,” he said.
Their children are grown and still live in the area: Kristine is 26 and Kevin is 22. Maciuba also has a 4-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.
His brother, Keith, also works for Palm Harbor Fire Rescue, as a lieutenant, having followed him into the organization as a volunteer. Both anticipated joining the majority of the family in law enforcement
“That’s what most of my family is: police officers,” Maciuba said. “I didn’t think I’d ever do it as a career, but here I am.”
Maciuba got a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration from St. Petersburg College, one of many educational steps he took to prepare himself “if I ever did want to become the chief here or anywhere really,” he said.
He’s glad he’s been able to stay in Palm Harbor, in its fire rescue organization, specifically. Palm Harbor has been his home since he was 16. He only claims his roots in Buffalo, N.Y., during football season.
“I’m still a diehard Buffalo Bills fan,” he said.
Maciuba said he didn’t have an end date in mind, as far as retirement. He would like to be remembered as a fair and progressive-minded chief. But for now, he’s still working on adjusting to the demands of the job.
“It will settle down soon, I’m sure,” he said. “I have great support of the staff and the commission.”