Phillips retires from GFD after 25 years

Published 9:34 am Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Greenville Fire Department Chief Chad Phillips announced his retirement earlier this month following 25 years of service to the Camellia City.

Greenville Fire Department Chief Chad Phillips announced his retirement earlier this month following 25 years of service to the Camellia City.

When Chad Phillips started his career as a Greenville firefighter back in 1991, he was following in some big footsteps—namely, those of his dad, Mike Phillips. The elder Phillips started out as a volunteer with the local department in 1969, then went on to become fire chief in the Camellia City, serving the community for more than 40 years.

And when his dad retired,  Chad stepped into the chief’s shoes. He says he felt well prepared for the job from those years working alongside his father.

“My dad has never been one to do things half-way and I worked for him for quite a while. I have to say he was pretty strict on me and, well, on everyone, but that’s how we learned the right way to do things,” Phillips says.

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A volunteer with the department for a year before joining the GFD at age 19, Greenville’s fire chief officially retires in late December. Looking back on his 25 years of service, Phillips has seen a number of changes in the local department.

“The changes have taken place primarily on three levels for us, I’d say. In terms of our EMS division, the level of sophistication of our medical equipment, like our heart monitors, is so, so far beyond what we had when I started out,” Phillips says.

“We sometimes watch reruns of the show ‘Emergency!’ from back in the ‘70s at the station and what you will hear us say is, “Hey, I remember we had equipment just like that,’ only this was back in the early ‘90s, not the ‘70s. We’ve come a long way from those days.”

Just as portable medical technology has progressed greatly in the past quarter-century, the ways and means of fighting fires have also changed, the outgoing fire chief says.

“The tactics of firefighting are different now—the way we approach and extinguish fires. A lot of education and training goes along with that.”

The number-one game changer, Phillips says, has definitely been the computer revolution.

“I remember the very first computer we had for the department. We bought it used from somewhere online. That thing was huge and used those big ol’ floppy disks,” Phillips recalls with a laugh. “The introduction of computers into the fire service changed so many things for us—not just in terms of record keeping, but for our day-to-day operations.”

Computers—and cell phones. “I remember when I started, everybody didn’t have cell phones. We used to have those big phones in bags that we’d tote around and carry into the houses with us. Now we’ve got phones that do a little bit of everything and we can slip them right in our pockets,” says Phillips.

While he recalls the fire at Ref Alabama Inc. in the city’s industrial park as one of the toughest blazes the GFD had to fight during his tenure with the department, Phillips also points out that the actual number of fires, particularly house fires, in the city has steadily declined since the early ‘90s.

“We can credit the decline in fires to the city grants that allowed some of these old, derelict houses that were potential fire traps to be pulled down, and through improvements in fire prevention education, the use of smoke alarms and such, and more stringent guidelines for new construction and renovations,” Phillips stresses. “Some of the old homes were actually built to accommodate the spread of fire rather than its prevention, although of course, they didn’t realize it at the time.”

Natural disasters bring their own learning curve to first responders, and Hurricane Ivan in 2004 was a whole new ballgame, Phillips recalls.

“I remember all of us at the fire station the night Ivan hit us. When we got up the next morning to see all the damage done, it was a real shocker.”

Dealing with the immediate needs of the community following Ivan’s destruction and making preparations for any future events was a “tremendous learning experience,” Phillips says. “We began to see the new federal guidelines rolling in that next year and it was very educational in all aspects.”

Looking back on his career, Phillips says it’s been a pleasure serving the public for the past 25 years. And he’s spending some of his last days on the job getting the department ready for the next generation of first responders.

“We’ve got new software and I guess you could say I am offering IT support helping get it up and running,” Phillips says.

As for his plans after December 27—his last day—Phillips knows what he wants to do.

“Spend every day I can turkey hunting until the season is over,” he laughs.

“Of course, I also have my side embroidery business and a long, long list of projects that need tending to around the house. Mostly, I think I am just going to go with the flow.”