HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Fire Chief Dennis Jones was named the Florida Career Fire Chief of the Year by the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association at an awards ceremony held Tuesday evening at the Naples Grande Beach Resort in Naples, Florida.
Chief Jones has led Hillsborough County Fire Rescue since 2015 and has implemented numerous policies, programs, and initiatives that have transformed and enhanced the department and the more than 1,200 firefighters, paramedics, and staff that serve Hillsborough County.
“I was truly humbled to receive this recognition and am extremely proud to be a member of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue,” Chief Jones said.
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Chief Jones is the sixth fire chief in the history of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. It is the fourth-largest fire department in Florida and has 46 stations, covers over 909 square miles, and answers nearly 140,000 alarms for service each year.
Since taking the helm at Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, Chief Jones has overseen the opening of numerous stations that have been rebuilt, three new stations, and the state-of-the-art Public Safety Operations Complex (PSOC), which serves as Hillsborough County’s emergency operations center during hurricanes and other emergency declarations.
Under his tenure, the department has added more than 200 new positions. For the upcoming budget, he has proposed a new master plan that would include an additional two stations a year for the next 10 years, enhancing response times for the protection and safety of Hillsborough County residents and visitors. These stations feature the latest safety measures, including decontamination systems, modern station-alerting systems designed to prioritize the mental well-being of first responders, and custom-made individualized bunker gear for all of the County’s firefighters.
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He also developed quick response squad units, which have been implemented to assist in reducing the stresses of increased call volume. Under his command, 12 additional Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulances and a second Heavy Rescue unit have been added, along with a new fireboat, a new rescue boat, two personal watercraft, and an aerial truck.
Chief Jones also oversees Hillsborough County Fire Rescue’s Office of Emergency Management, which is responsible for planning and coordinating actions to prepare, respond, and recover from natural or man-made disasters in Hillsborough County. He was a founding member of Florida Task Force 3, an urban search-and-rescue team of trained firefighters from Hillsborough County, Tampa, and St. Petersburg that respond to and assist major disasters. He has both deployed and directed deployments across the state and nation. Two years ago, he deployed Florida Task Force 3 to Surfside, Florida., to assist after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building.
The physical and mental health of his firefighters has been paramount in the professional decisions Chief Jones has made. Under his direction, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue created a Health and Safety Chief, a Peer Support Team, resource portals, an enhanced and vetted Employee Assistance Program, and a chaplaincy program. A contracted behavioral health specialist program also is planned for the near future..
Diversity, recruitment, and retention are also at the forefront of his leadership. Chief Jones created and developed the Human Resource and Diversity Officer for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, which assists with recruitment and is proactive in community engagement. The summer youth fire academy, cadet program, and fire academy were either instituted or revamped under his direction to assist in creating opportunities for a more diverse workforce.
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“He is a man of integrity, fortitude, and compassion,” said Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise, who has worked with Chief Jones for more than 20 years at Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa. “With over 40 years of experience in the fire service, Chief Jones has the steadfast respect and admiration of the first responders in his charge, and as a founding member of Florida Task Force 3, there is nobody I would rather have at my side during times of crisis.”
Chief Jones’ distinguished career started in 1978 with Tampa Fire Rescue, where he progressed through the ranks and became Tampa Fire Rescue Fire Chief. He served in that role for more than five years and retired in 2010.
During his time as Tampa Fire Chief, he also was the city’s Emergency Manager and developed a comprehensive emergency management plan. He initiated the Firefighter Occupational Health and Safety program and led fire station renovations. He guided the design, funding, and eventual delivery of the 69-foot, state-of-the-art fireboat christened “Patriot.”
He also was instrumental in achieving an International Accreditation recommendation.
Based in Tallahassee and representing more than 2,200 members, the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association (FFCA) is Florida’s leading management education organization for fire and emergency services professionals. It is the professional association that specializes in promoting and supporting excellence in fire and emergency services management. FFCA programs help members maintain and develop their management and leadership skills.
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