Take 5 with Jennifer Smith

Take 5Becoming the highest-ranking woman in the county’s fire department was not what JENNIFER SMITH thought volunteering for the rescue squad in high school would lead to. But, after loving each step of the process, she now serves as a fire battalion chief with the New Hanover County Fire Rescue.

WHAT LED TO YOUR DECISION TO GO INTO FIRE RESCUE? “My experience with the fire service began in high school when I volunteered for the local rescue squad. I found volunteering rewarding and wanted to continue it during college. While at UNCW, I volunteered at Winter Park (Volunteer) Fire Department, where I received my initial firefighting certifications. During this time, I also completed my paramedic credential. After graduating college, I needed a job. I enjoyed helping other people and making a positive impact on the community. This led me to a job in the fire service while I figured out my future, but I never imagined that this would become my career. I started working with New Hanover County Fire Rescue as a firefighter twenty-three years ago, and I have worked my way up through the ranks to my current position as a battalion chief.”

WHAT WAS THE PROCESS LIKE TO BECOME THE FIRE BATTALION CHIEF? “I began my career as a firefighter and during that time, I continued to gain certifications and work on a fire service degree. When I was eligible, I applied for promotion as a lieutenant and then as a captain. I served as a station captain for several years. As a captain, I was accepted to the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program, which I graduated from four years later. When New Hanover County created the battalion chief position, I was one of the first ones to be promoted and serve in this position. I spent five years in the field in operations before moving to administration. I achieved my chief fire officer credential and my master’s degree in public administration. Today, I am responsible for the Planning and Administration Division, which includes budget, hiring and promotional processes, strategic planning, data analysis, information technology projects, and accreditation.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE THE HIGHEST-RANKING WOMAN IN THE COUNTY’S FIRE DEPARTMENT? “I am honored to be able to serve the community as well as support our staff as they provide the highest level of service to the community. I hope that I serve as a leader and a role model for young women. My mother was that for me, teaching me that I could be and do anything I wanted. I hope that I inspire young women to pursue their dreams and possibly even a career in the fire service.”

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE DURING YOUR CAREER? “I have learned that I like to create an environment for individuals to succeed. I like to inspire and support my team so that they can be successful and develop into a high-performing team. I value those on my team for what they can bring to the table. I strive for excellence and, through my leadership, encourage and inspire those around me to also pursue excellence.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC TO KNOW ABOUT FIRE SAFETY? “Residents and businesses need to identify the potential risks that they face daily – such as what and where the main fire hazards are in their building, what items are at most risk of burning and who are the people most at risk. Once those risks have been identified, they can work to help prevent and reduce those risks – such as removing or reducing the main hazards, ensuring an emergency plan is in place that outlines the potential risks, and that the right people are trained. New Hanover County Fire Rescue is always available to help residents and businesses with this process, and you can learn more about our department at firerescue.nhcgov.co.


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