The Maitland Fire Rescue Department personnel and 100 or so others in attendance will long remember Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, at 3 p.m. as they witnessed an epic presentation. City Manager Jim Williams had the privilege of installing the city of Maitland’s first female Fire Chief, Kimberly Neisler. As unique as that was, it was only one of three things that happened that afternoon. One of the other two things was that this was the first time Chief Neisler was in the company of all four of her predecessors, all of whom she worked under in one capacity or another. Immediately preceding her was recently retired Chief Ken Neuhard. Chief Neuhard served under and replaced Chief Dan Hardester who retired in 2004. Chief Hardester served under his predecessor Chief Sid Ballou who served for 10 years as chief. When Chief Ballou arrived, he took what was handed to him by Maitland’s first career Fire Chief, Ezra Hardy – and so it continued.
Elected officials and many others influential in helping the department to grow and prosper were present, including the Friends of First Response, a volunteer group that has done so much over the years for Maitland’s firefighters.
A series of changes, including restructuring and retirements, led to the ceremonies that Friday. Chief Neisler conducted the promotions of two battalion chiefs, three lieutenants, four paramedic engineers and four new probationary firefighters.
The audience was captivated as facts about the department and some of its history were presented in everything from the most serious of matters to the lighthearted. Chief Neisler spoke of her experiences with each of her former chiefs with laughs, smiles and even a tear or two.
As she continued with the induction program, Chief Neisler told something about each member to the audience, which also got a few laughs and hints suggesting there was perhaps more to be told, but it wasn’t going to be then.
Representatives of the department’s chaplains were present and shared a few benevolent thoughts and prayers. Former firefighters were also featured. Some now retired and associate professionals from the neighboring agencies of Winter Park, Orange County, Orlando, Ocoee, Winter Garden and Reedy Creek (Disney World’s Fire Service) were welcomed and acknowledged.
But perhaps the crowning moment of the afternoon was one that wasn’t even a part of the planned agenda. One chief officer happened to learn of a matter involving one of its newly hired firefighters. Although the firefighter knew his grandmother was present for the ceremony, unbeknown to him, she wanted to present him with a plaque that was awarded to her grandfather in the late 1890s in recognition of his own fire service achievements.
Chief Neisler insisted that Granny present it in the chambers, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house! Now that’s how you do it.
In closing the program, Deputy Chief Pat McCabe of the Winter Park Fire Department, representing the Central Florida Fire Chief’s Association, presented retired Chief Ken Neuhard with recognition for his achievements during his tenure.
Assistant Chief Bart Wright invited recently promoted Brandon Lawrence to the podium to speak on behalf of the Maitland Firefighters Local 3590. After hearing his stirring appeal to the public, one could hardly leave the auditorium with any doubts that Maitland residents and visitors to the city were in the best and most capable hands possible.
The final part of the program was a brief video presentation of the department and its activities. Following that, all enjoyed fellowship and some great barbeque at fire rescue headquarters next to City Hall sponsored by Local 3590.
Our city residents are invited to call and make an appointment to tour our new downtown Fire Station and meet our new chief of the Maitland Fire Rescue Department.
-Bart Wright, CFPS
Maitland Fire Department