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Q&A: Jay Mebane talks about starting new role as Chapel Hill fire chief

jay mebane.jpg
Chapel Hill Fire Chief Jay Mebane poses for a picture on Monday, July 17, 2023.

Jay Mebane was selected as the Chapel Hill Fire Department's new fire chief on June 2, and began work on July 3. Mebane previously served as the City of Burlington's fire chief.

Summer City & State Desk Editor Walker Livingston sat down with Mebane to discuss his new role and his goals for the CHFD.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

DTH: How has your transition from your role in Burlington to fire chief in Chapel Hill been so far?

Jay Mebane: It's been amazing and, truthfully, I've been received with welcome open arms from every division within the fire department. It's just been fantastic. My first week, I met with every person in the department that I could and explained my vision and what I'm here to do. I left them all with three questions. I said, "Do you care for me? Can I trust you? Can you help me?" And then I said, "I can tell you that I care about you, you can trust me and I'm here to help you," and that's my role as a leader within this organization, to propel an organization to its maximum capability by allowing people to know that I'm here for them and that they can trust me.

DTH: Could you tell me about your career and your time serving fire departments in Alamance County? 

JM: I graduated Walter Williams High School in 2005. At the same time, I started working for the Burlington Police Department. I’ve been dabbling in public safety most of my adult life. A police officer introduced me to the fire chief of Burlington in 2007, and he asked me if I had any experience and I said no, so I started volunteering with the Mebane Fire Department and fell in love with it. In 2008, I ended up doing a lateral transfer to the Burlington Fire Department. And from there it was, I mean, it was history. 

I went to school and got my bachelor's degree and multiple certifications and was able to rise through the ranks as a firefighter and in 2020, I was selected to become the fire chief for the City of Burlington and ventured back over to serve the men and women who had supported me for many years. It was good to feel the support and admiration from the men and women serving in the rank and file.

DTH: What are some of the things that make you passionate about firefighting?

JM: It's really just helping people. For the majority of our job, I think we see people at their worst, and we have to bring the level of comfort to a situation that says, "Everything's gonna be okay. Yes, it’s your worst day, it's your worst injury, but everything's gonna be okay." We're trying to handle these types of situations, to make things better in our community. You see an impact immediately in firefighting, there’s no wait and see.

DTH: What are your goals for the Chapel Hill Fire Department in your first year as fire chief?

JM: My immediate goal right now is to work on staff. I’ve been working on a plan to stabilize our staffing levels and we’re about to advertise and recruit for our vacant positions. We also need to replace old, worn-out equipment. The safety of our firefighters is paramount. I will be going around continuing to meet in small settings with my firefighters and having some open, candid discussions with them about the trajectory of the department and where they see the department going and what my role is in facilitating that.

DTH: What are some fire safety resources that the Chapel Hill Fire Department provides that you want the community to know about?

JM: We host a child safety seat clinic quite often and we install child safety seats to make sure they're properly installed in the event you have an accident and also just to make sure that you're protecting little ones. I also want people to know that if you have any questions about your smoke alarm feel free to call us, and let's talk about it. We can talk about placement. We can talk about the difference between photoelectric and ionization and where they need to be and things of that nature. I want the business community to know that we're a resource. Yes, we are fire code officials and it's our job to go out and make sure that you are adhering to those things, but it's not just an enforcement tool, we want to educate the community.

DTH: What are some things you want the Chapel Hill community to know about? How can community members build relationships with the Chapel Hill Fire Department?

JM: I want Chapel Hill residents to know that we are a resource to the community. Any opportunity we get to interact, we would love to take you up on it. Be safe, make sure that you have working smoke alarms and that you have a way to get out of your home. We're gonna do the best that we can do with what we have, but we're always better when our communities are a little more prepared.

@wslivingston_

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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Walker Livingston

Walker Livingston is the 2024 enterprise managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as summer city & state editor and assistant city & state editor. Walker is a sophomore pursuing a double major in journalism and media and American studies, with a minor in data science. 

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