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WFD Chief Hill stepping down

WILMINGTON -- There's a major change coming at the top of the Wilmington fire department. Chief Sam Hill is stepping down next March. It will likely mean significant changes, changes that some say are long overdue. When Chief Hill retires next march it will mark the end of a half-century of service. He was first hired by the department in 1957, and has served as chief since 1988. Councilwoman Pat Delair says that's too long. She has been an outspoken critic of the way the fire department has been run. She points to the results of a 2006 assessment of the department as the main reason Wilmington firefighters need new leadership. Delair said, "There's a perception at the fire department among the rank and file that promotions are done through favoritism rather than ability. There are other issues related to the organizational culture at the fire department. It really needs to be corrected and there needs to be some accountability there. And one of the issues has to do with management." Nearly nine months later she still sees a need for change. "One item on the assessment had to do with the culture of the department, and that they really needed to address that," Delair said. "The way I look at it is that the culture drives everything. And if the culture is all squirrelly, we're not going to get done what we need to get done and get this fire department into a more progressive mode Chief Hill has long defended his performance. In an interview back in January Hill said he was working to correct the problems the study uncovered. "The assessment showed that overall, the department is run pretty well," Hill said. "It showed some areas of improvements we need to meet and we have every endeavor to meet those." Now that he's retiring, Delair says the timing is right to bring in someone new -- with a fresh perspective. "Someone who is more progressive, someone who's thinking is more in line with how the firefighters think this department should be run," Delair said. Chief Hill said, "The department will continue to grow. It will continue to be one of the best in the state. We've got a staff that is excellent and personnel that are outstanding. And the department will continue to do well." The company that did the assessment will create a job description and help with the search for the new chief. The Wilmington City Council will then interview candidates to find a replacement by next March. Seagate Fire One of Chief Hill's goals was seeing Wilmington's newest fire station come online. The fire department broke ground Wednesday for the new Seagate fire station. The station will be built on the site of the former Seagate volunteer station on Oleander Drive. The project will cost $3.3 million and is expected to be completed in a year. Mayor Bill Saffo says the new station means increased safety for local residents. "We have made a commitment to try to designate fire stations as close to all the residents so we can make a commitment to try to reach those residents within about a five-minute drive time. So this is another commitment from our behalf in respect to monies that we're spending to keep our citizens safe," Saffo said. Mayor Saffo says the new station also shows the city's support of the men and women of the fire department.

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