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The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with newly promoted Chapel Hill Fire Chief Matt Sullivan

Matt Sullivan is the newly promoted Chapel Hill fire chief. Senior writer Janna Childers talked with Sullivan about his new position and long history of town service.

The Daily Tar Heel: What are the daily responsibilities of the fire chief?

Matt Sullivan: I’m responsible for the overall operation of the fire department. I have a great team here of people that work with me for the town of Chapel Hill, but at the end of the day, it’s my ultimate responsibility to make sure we protect this community and protect it in a way that the town and citizens expect. I also have other responsibilities with the town. I’m a member of the Town Senior Leadership Team, so I’ve got a great group of colleagues from other department heads and other seniors in the town. We work together to collaborate and to effectively deliver service, not just fire service, but all services to this community.

DTH: What are you looking forward to the most about the new job as fire chief?

Sullivan: I’m looking forward to watching our employees engage in a strategic planning process that will posture us for what we do in the future — delivering fire services to the community for the next 15, 20, 25 years. To me, it is really exciting to watch our employees engage and decide on what the course of action we would need to take and to decide on the steps that will help us get there.

DTH: What other jobs have you held in the town of Chapel Hill?

Sullivan: So, I actually started working for the town of Chapel Hill in 1988. I was hired as a public safety officer, which meant that we were police officers, firefighters and EMTs. I was a parole officer, a narcotics investigator, a community police officer and a D.A.R.E. officer. Most of my career was spent in the police crisis unit. Between my law enforcement, gun-slinging career and my current jobs for the town, I spent three years at UNC as the coordinator of substance abuse programs. Then I came back and worked as a police social worker here for the town. From there, I worked as an interim police attorney and then as a municipal legal advisor and then I was an interim director of planning and sustainability in our inspections department. I came to the fire department about three years ago as one of the emergency management coordinators and then served as interim fire chief for fourteen months and now fire chief.

DTH: What's your favorite part about being a fire chief?

Sullivan: The people. I enjoy people — both the firefighters and the employees that I work for here in the fire department. I also love interacting with the community and working with business owners, community members, neighborhood leaders and students.

DTH: What are your other interests or hobbies outside of your work?

Sullivan: I like to garden. I like to read some. I spend a lot of time in my church. I do some outreach work with them and am involved in several ministries — and watching my kids grow up. My son’s a freshman in college at Western (Carolina University) this year. Being a dad and a husband is an important part of my job, too.

DTH: What do you find unique and challenging about being a fire chief in Chapel Hill?

Sullivan: I think we always are growing and evolving as a community. I think Chapel Hill, like every community, has to evolve. As we evolve, the systems and the ways we do business have to change and that can be hard sometimes — to change the way we’ve done business in the interest of looking toward the future. It’s always challenging to make sure we’re always being the most. We’re entrusted as stewards of this community’s safety and that’s a huge responsibility. To make sure we’re doing it in the most effective and efficient way should be a challenge because we should always challenge ourselves to do that better.


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