LARGO – After almost five years leading Largo Fire Rescue, Chief Shelby Willis has decided to trade the sunshine of Florida for the snow of Utah and will be resigning her post effective March 9.
Largo’s first female fire chief, who has been with the department since 1997, was named to the top post in 2013 following the retirement of former Chief Mike Wallace.
Starting April 1, she will begin her new position as deputy fire chief in Ogden, Utah, which is just north of Salt Lake City and has a population of 86,700,
“We have always dreamed of living in Utah, Colorado or even Idaho. It’s just a way of life that we like and we want to do,” Willis said.
“It’s a weird feeling,” she added. “I get the opportunity to start over, my family gets the opportunity to start over. Although that sounds pretty exciting, it’s pretty frightening.”
Willis served as a police officer in the Air Force from 1985-89, joining at the age of 17. She returned to Florida in the hopes of continuing her career as a police officer, but found the opportunities lacking and decided to go back to school to become a paramedic, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of South Florida.
She later became a volunteer at the Redington Beach Fire Department before Largo Fire Rescue hired her as a paramedic/firefighter in 1997. By 2006, she was named division chief of emergency medical services and quickly rose up the ranks to chief.
Willis, who is married and has a 10-year-old son, has also earned a master’s degree in safety-security and emergency management and completed the Executive Fire Officer Program with a perfect score. She is one of less than 4,000 graduates nationwide, and only the third executive fire officer in the history of the Largo department to achieve the milestone.
Finding a new chief
In a recent email to fire department personnel, City Manager Henry Schubert said his next step will be hiring an executive search firm to find the “best possible candidates.”
“I will be looking for a new Chief who will continue the legacy of excellence for Largo Fire Rescue,” Schubert wrote. “I want a Chief who is innovative, creative, a good strategic thinker, someone who will have a productive working relationship with the union and be respectful of our outstanding workforce. I want someone who can collaborate with Pinellas County Administration and the other chiefs in the county as we continue to seek solutions to the increasing EMS call volume. I want a Chief who will effectively function as a member of the City’s Executive Leadership Team and support the City’s mission, vision, and values.”
In the interim, Schubert said Deputy Chief Joseph Pennino, who is expected to apply for the position, will serve as the acting chief.