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Veteran chief started career after fateful dinner interruption

Growing up, Chief Dan Smith never envisioned himself becoming firefighter let alone a veteran of two local departments. However, a chance opportunity piqued his interest and set him on a course that eventually led to his serving as Fire Chief for both Brownsburg and Washington-Township Avon Fire Departments, respectively.

Smith was born and raised in Brownsburg and began his career in 1981 as an EMT. He worked for three years as a volunteer firefighter before getting hired on as one of the first full-time firefighters in Brownsburg. In 1996, Smith came to Avon where he climbed the ranks again to become its current Fire Chief. He obtained his Executive Fire Officer degree from the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 2011.

What inspired you to become a firefighter/EMT?
It’s kind of interesting, when I was young, my dad was a volunteer firefighter in Brownsburg but I didn’t have any interest in it at the time. I went to college and studied sociology and psychology. After I graduated from college and got married, my wife and I were having dinner with some friends of ours, the Matthews family from Brownsburg—Steve owns Matthews Mortuary—and at the time, the mortuary had an ambulance service that served the town of Avon, Pittsboro and Litzon. On the night we were eating together, there was an accident in Brownsburg and they needed a second ambulance. So they called Steve and I just happened to be there and went on the run with him. I told him I really enjoyed it so he paid for me to go to EMT school. Shortly after I got out of EMT school, Brownsburg still had a volunteer fire department. They had lost several of their volunteers so I went over and offered my services as an EMT. I began training as a volunteer firefighter…

As Fire Chief, what is a normal day for you like?
Every day is different. Obviously, with me being in administration now, I don’t make as many fire or EMS runs as I used to. Now, my job is more political and providing my people with the skills and equipment they need to do the job. But I still do responses. I’m actually one of two fire investigators on the department… I still go on every working fire in our jurisdiction. But now my job is overseeing the staff that educates and trains the firefighters.

What’s one of your best memories on the job?
I don’t know that I can recall one instance. I’ve loved every day that I’ve done the job. Obviously, it’s a thrill and an honor to serve the public, and have the public’s trust—and to know that every run we go on makes a difference in a person’s life. I think the one thing that makes this job special is the people I work with… The shift that you work with kind of becomes your second family. I’ve had the opportunity to develop relationships with a lot of great people both in administration and on the shift…

What do you find most challenging about the job?
Probably trying to balance the financial constraints of the job and being able to provide a level of service that we want for the community we protect. We are very blessed to have a board that backs what we do; we have good equipment and are paid well. But in every government agency you deal with the constraints of tax caps, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the growth of the community…

Looking to the future, what are your goals professionally?
I realize I’m getting toward the end of my career, and one of the things that I’m concerned about for our organization is what we call succession planning. A lot of people probably don’t know what that means, but it’s basically developing and building up people to fill the roles of our organization as people transition out of the vocation. My position will be vacated at some point in time and I want to build people up to fill my position and the other leadership roles in the organization. So one of our big goals is to identify people with those skill sets and give them the education and things that they need to fill those roles…