By SHELLY WILKISON
Raised in a family with three generations of firefighters, it was almost a given that Chancy Bizzell would follow in the family tradition and one day become a fire chief.
Today, at age 35, he is the youngest fire chief in Williamson County and says he is excited to have the opportunity.
Bizzell, who has been serving as Assistant Chief for the past five years, was named permanent Fire Chief by Commissioners of the Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 on Oct. 18, following the resignation the same day of Chief Mark McAdams.
McAdams, a retired Austin Fire Department Batallion chief, who was named WCESD #4 Chief on April 19, resigned last week to accept a position as an outreach minister with New Hope Baptist Church in Jarrell. McAdams presently volunteers in the church’s addiction recovery ministry. McAdams’ resignation becomes effective Oct. 29.
Board President Dean Andrews said he learned of McAdams’ intentions about two weeks prior to the official announcement, and approached Bizzell to see if he was interested in the position. Andrews said the Board did not post the opening. With benefits, Bizzell will earn a salary of $91,291 — a salary comparable to the previous two fire chiefs.
Bizzell, first joined the department as a volunteer firefighter in 2003. He said the experience of working from the bottom up uniquely qualifies him for the job.
“Over the years, I’ve developed a tremendous amount of resources, I’ve been networking and building relationships,” he said. “Starting as a volunteer and working up through the ranks, I think they (firefighters) have confidence in me that’s mutual. They had confidence in me when I was on the truck with them, and they still have that now.”
Andrews said Bizzell has shown leadership in recent years as the ESD has experienced changes in administration — some of which were tumultuous.
Bizzell served as interim chief for almost a year after the controversial termination in May 2009 of longtime Chief James Pogue.
After the ESD Board hired Bruce Watson as Pogue’s permanent replacement in February 2010, Bizzell returned to the rank of Assistant Chief.
The Board terminated Watson in January and promoted McAdams to Chief in April. McAdams had been serving as the department’s training officer.
“Chancy has been here 10 years and we’ve seen him take a leadership role,” Andrews said. “It’s in the best interest of the community and for the continuity of the department to have this smooth transition. He has continuity, direction and a vision for what it (the department) can be.”
The vote to hire Bizzell was unanimous. While Commissioner Dana Ripley not present, Andrews said she supported the decision.
“I have all the confidence in the world in this department,” said McAdams. “In fact, I’m more excited for them than they are. I look forward to seeing them grow.
“This community has been very good to me, and I couldn’t have asked for a better situation,” he said. “I hope one day they can look back and say I helped position them for a foundation of growth.”
Bizzell said when the fire chief position was open in the past, he considered applying but realized he wasn’t ready.
“This time I didn’t want to pass on the opportunity again,” he said. “I’ve had time to mature and am excited about moving forward. I know the system, work with neighboring fire departments, county representatives. I have a lot of respect for the county chiefs and I was ready.”
Bizzell credited his service with McAdams as preparation for the new job. A mentor and friend, Bizzell said he plans to continue to involve McAdams in the department as a training instructor, chaplain and possibly a public information officer.
“We have had the same ideas on where we (the department) needed to go,” Bizzell said. “Our priorities will continue to be training, maintaining proper staffing and fire code enforcement.”
Bizzell said it was too early to share his ideas or plans for the department. He promised that more information will be forthcoming after the the transition to his new position.
Bizzell has earned numerous certifications from the Texas Commission on Fire Protection. In fact, there were so many that he had to refer to a business card and thought some were missing. He said has has earned enough certifications to get him about halfway through an associate’s degree in fire science, and plans to pursue the degree at some point.
Some of his certifications include Intermediate Firefighter, Fire Officer I, Fire Officer I Inspector, Swift Water Tech II.
While his duties now are mostly administrative, Bizzell said he still responds to major emergency calls. When on the scene, he is usually operating as incident command, he said.
A graduate of Georgetown High School, Bizzell graduated from the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) Recruit Fire Academy in 1995. In addition to his experience in Liberty Hill, he also served as an auxiliary firefighter for the City of Georgetown. He did take a break from the fire service for a short time as an employee in the street department for the City of Round Rock and later worked in construction for Lennar Homes.
While he explored different career options, he said a family history in the fire service destined him for public service.
It started with Bizzell’s great-grandfather and his wife, who lived upstairs in the Central Fire Station in Georgetown.
Bizzell’s grandfather started as a volunteer for the Georgetown Fire Department, and Bizzell’s father served 27 years as Fire Chief in Round Rock before he retired just seven years ago.
Bizzell’s younger brother works for the City of Burnet Fire Department.
Over the years, Bizzell said he has seen many changes as growth in and around the fire district has created many challenges for the small, young department.
Chief among those is staffing. While he says the volunteer component of the department continues to be strong, finding and keeping qualified paid staff will continue to be a challenge.
With population growth, improvements to infrastructure — especially water supply — are needed in the district in order to maintain a proper level of response to fire emergencies. While Bizzell admits that is an issue out of his control, it’s an ever-present concern.
He said as Chief, he will continue to maintain good communication with other fire chiefs in the area as first responders plan for the future.
“Fire service is the best job in the world,” Bizzell said. “You get to help people every day. I work with great people and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with the job.”
Bizzell, who spoke with The Independent the day after his appointment, said he is nervous, “but extremely excited.”
He compared the feeling to the day he learned he was being hired to a full-time paid position.
“It felt good. I remember what that felt like, and this day feels like that, but my stomach is in knots,” he laughed.