They say you should leave things better than the way you found them. The head of the Winter Park Fire-Rescue Department has done just that.
The department will see an era come to an end this May when Winter Park Fire Chief Jim White retires after more than two decades of service to the city.
White’s retirement brings a 35-year career of firefighting to an end.
“It’s all I’ve known for most of my adult life,” White said. “It’s going to be a difference, but I’m excited. I can’t be any more appreciative. Everyone in Winter Park has just been wonderful.”
Much has changed in the field since White first became a career firefighter in Myrtle Beach in 1982 — a time when a firefighter’s own safety was perhaps not as high a priority, White said.
The days of firefighters hanging on to the back of a fire truck going full speed to answer a call are long gone.
“We always thought that we needed to take care of our firefighters better, meaning their safety and their equipment, but I don’t think its ever been as pronounced as it is now,” White said. “We’re finding out that the predominance of cancer in the fire service is just unmatched.
“I think we’ve become a safer operation,” he said. “Taking care of our own has been a tremendous change from where it was even 25 to 30 years ago. You used to be very proud to go in and come out and your gear was all soot covered and dirty, like, ‘Oh, that was a real firefighter kind of thing.’ Now it’s looked at like, ‘Hey, why don’t you go clean your gear, because that stuff will kill you eventually.’ … Chief McCabe and I will be talking about something the guys will bring up and we go, ‘How did we survive?’”
IN THE BLOOD
White comes from a family of firefighters – growing up in Arlington, Virginia, where some of his earliest memories are eating dinners with the crews and being around fire trucks. His father worked as a volunteer firefighter and his brother went on to become deputy chief of the Arlington County Fire Department. White became a volunteer firefighter at the age of 18 and shortly after took that first job at Myrtle Beach.
After about 10 years in South Carolina, White came to the Sunshine State and joined the Winter Park department as a deputy chief back in 1992 before taking the head position in 2002.
‘RIGHT EVERY TIME’
In his 25 years serving Winter Park, White made several improvements to the department, including developing the city’s first Office of Emergency Management that is implemented during hurricanes, transitioning patient transport care from an outsourced service to an in-house service, and assisting with the final design for the city’s public safety building in 2001.
“When we make a change or we make something that we need (the city’s) support on, they find a way to make it happen for us,” White said. “We’ve just had tremendous support.”
White also has spent the past several years working as the head of code compliance at the city, helping Winter Park maintain its character and charm by keeping tabs on road signs, overgrown lots and other violations.
White said he is proud of his time serving Winter Park and how well the department serves the city’s residents.
The technology and practices have advanced over the years, but the mission has never changed, White said.
They’re there to save lives, he said.
“As much has changed, a lot of it’s still the same,” White said. “People expect us to be there for them every time. I often tell people there’s no 912. They can’t call anybody else, so we’ve got to be right every time.”