BROOKSVILLE — The three-month search for a new public safety director ended Monday when the county administrator’s office announced it will hire Scott Hechler, a deputy fire chief from Virginia.
Hechler has a master’s in business administration and dual bachelor’s degrees in labor safety and health/labor studies. He has more than 30 years of experience in public safety with 26 years in managerial and leadership roles. He completed executive leadership programs at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia.
The county advertised in-house and outside for a candidate. Hechler’s first day will be June 16 and he will be paid $100,000 annually.
Most recently, Hechler served as the deputy fire chief for Spotsylvania County, Virginia. He provided leadership and executive management for fire and emergency medical services (EMS) uniform and civilian personnel consisting of 173 career and about 330 volunteer responders. As deputy, he led the operations, training and the EMS/safety & health divisions.
Spotsylvania has 13 stations that cover 440 square miles and its 125,000 residents. Hechler is also a Virginia state fire adjunct instructor and an emergency services consultant.
Hechler was hired as director of Campbell County Public Safety in March 2010 before accepting his current job in Spotsylvania in June 2012.
As public safety director in Hernando County, Hechler will head up the recently consolidated county fire department and Hernando County Animal Services.
Hechler does not have a Florida State minimum firefighter II certification and a Florida State Fire Officer I certification, both of which were required in the job advertisement for public safety director.
State law allows him one year to obtain a specialty certification. Until then, Hechler will be unable to enter a “hot zone,” which the law defines as the area “immediately around an incident where serious threat of harm exists, which includes the collapse zone for a structure fire.”
There is an equivalency requirement in statutes that allows Hechler to transfer some of his experience in Virginia to Florida. However, he will still be required to take certain tests to achieve Florida certification.
“While I will miss the many friends and colleagues within the fire, EMS, and emergency management community of Virginia, I look forward to joining the Hernando County team of fire, EMS and animal control service professionals,” Hechler said in a press release. “I am certain that we will build upon the successes of the past as we look to the future challenges and opportunities. I’m eager to become a part of the community in which I will have the privilege to serve.”
County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Nickerson has been the interim chief of the county’s fire department since former director Michael Rampino resigned for a job in Manatee County.
Other positions held by Hechler include: statewide traffic incident management program manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation; protection operations Specialist IV for Battelle Memorial Institute, providing fire and emergency management support to the U.S. Navy headquarters in Washington D.C.; Chief Deputy Director, Virginia Department of Fire Programs; multiple positions from firefighter to acting battalion chief for the Chesterfield Fire & EMS in Virginia.
“Mr. Hechler’s vast knowledge and experience, which includes animal services management, will be an asset to Hernando County,” according to Brian Malmberg, assistant county administrator.
Staff reviewed more than 40 applications and determined that four internal and seven external individuals met the criteria to proceed to the interview process.
The county conducted interviews with the four internal applicants and phone interviews with the external candidates. The latter were narrowed down to two and brought in for interviews.
Robert Rey, president of the Hernando County Professional Firefighters Union, said firefighters are upset the county did not choose a local candidate.
“It’s very disappointing they chose to go outside and skip the dedicated men who knew everything in Hernando County and to be passed over like you don’t count,” Rey said. “Our morale could not be lower right now and we have zero confidence with our county commissioners that they care about us.”
Rey said the union will contact firefighters and others who worked under Hechler in Virginia to determine what kind of leader he was during his tenure. He said the large number of volunteers in his former fire department is concerning because it could indicate he is in the mindset of replacing the full-time, paid employees.
Douglas Barnes, county administrator with Spotsylvania County, said Hechler was looking for a career move and he supports his decision.
Hernando County, he said, “is getting a good man.”
“He’s got the qualifications and the experience,” Barnes said.
Barnes said Spotsylvania County was an all-volunteer fire department until the early 1990s and has slowly developed into a combination career/volunteer organization.
He said Hechler filled in as interim fire chief in Spotsylvania County after the previous chief left and did a fine job.
“He was able to help us during our transition time and he was very capable,” Barnes said.