Carrboro Fire Chief David Schmidt will step down on Aug. 31, with Carrboro Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Carl Freeman serving as interim chief while the department searches for a permanent replacement.
Schmidt is resigning to move back to his home state of Illinois to be closer to family.
He joined the department in January 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said he helped the department adapt to new restrictions and situations.
“His entire tenure with the Town has been defined by that experience and as fire chief," Seils said. "He's been responsible as the Town's main point of contact with our county-wide emergency response. Chief Schmidt has been kind of that staff-level professional expert that we needed to have on the ground during the pandemic response.”
Despite being with them for less than three years, he said Schmidt has had a big impact on the department.
“In his short time with the Town, Chief Smith has really upped the professional game for the entire department and has been well-liked by staff," Seils said.
The Carrboro Fire-Rescue Department has 37 full-time employees, and it covers both the Town of Carrboro and the Southern Orange Fire District — an area with a population of more than 25,000.
Not only does the department respond to calls; it provides educational resources and fire risk reduction services. The department also supplies COVID-19 resources to the community.
Schmidt said he managed Carrboro's emergency food distribution site during the pandemic, along with distributing masks and other protective equipment.
Sometimes, Schmidt said, firefighters would hand out masks to community members when on calls. He said the fire department was a hub for mask and food distribution to the community for much of the pandemic.
Schmidt said managing Carrboro's emergency response during the pandemic required quick adjustments and adaptations to what the community needed.
"It's like building a plane while you're flying," he said. "We didn't know what we didn't know."
Since he had only been at the department for a few months when the pandemic began, Schmidt said the onset of the pandemic was a challenge for him.
"Coming into a new organization trying to learn new firefighters and new community members, and then to be thrust into the pandemic and into the shutdown and the isolation or quarantine, it was an absolute challenge," Schmidt said.
He said he appreciates the passion Carrboro's firefighters have for helping other people and stepping up to the challenge the pandemic created.
"Some people just take the job for benefits, some take it for the money," Schmidt said. "But this group of firefighters that I've been working with almost three years, they take for the right reasons, and that's to help."
Freeman, Schmidt's interim replacement, will take the helm with plenty of experience under his belt.
“Deputy Chief Freeman has been employed at the Carrboro Fire-Rescue Department for more than 30 years," Town Manager Richard J. White III said in a July 26 press release. "I am certain that his knowledge and experience will continue to be huge assets to the department and the community during this interim period while he leads the department."
Julie Eckenrode, Carrboro's human resources director, said Freeman's experience, on-site knowledge and administrative skill will be important for the interim chief.
“You really have to have a good balance of the operational and administrative sides of the fire service, and that's something that Carl's been working towards throughout his career," Eckenrode said.
The search for a permanent replacement for Schmidt is already underway, Seils said. It will take place over the next several months.
@DTHCityState | firstname.lastname@example.org
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.