SALISBURY — After 16 months serving as acting chief, Rick Hoppes has been appointed the permanent chief of the Salisbury Fire Department (SFD).
During those 16 months, Mayor Jim Ireton and some members of the City Council clashed over whether Hoppes should be appointed permanently to the post. It was only with the most recent election and a changing of the guard on the council that the appointment went through.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell, who publically supported Hoppes becoming fire chief since the position most recently became available, was enthusiastic this week about what his appointment finally means in terms of unsticking the city’s bureaucratic clog.
“It was very settling and reassuring that we’re going to be able to get things moving on the council,” she said. “And this council is committed to talking about their differences and reaching consensus and moving on, getting things done.”
Hoppes also commented on the “stability” that has now been achieved by having a confirmed leader in place. His confirmation will benefit the entire company through the resulting tide of internal promotions as well.
“With the promotion of an internal candidate for fire chief obviously there’s a trickledown effect,” he said. “We will have a number of internal promotions yet to come because of the vacancy that’s created by my promotion.”
While Hoppes was confined to acting chief, Mitchell said that there was a sense of disquiet in the community. In part, she claimed that resident opinion regarding Hoppes might have played a factor in the recent election where one member of the council majority which had initially rejected Hoppes as a replacement was unseated.
It is fair to note that the former council majority was publically in favor of the job done by Hoppes but wanted Ireton to submit more applicants for the position of chief and possibly look to a national search. For his part, the mayor staunchly refused to offer any alternatives while the council majority refused to appoint Hoppes, leaving the matter in a standoff. The council rearrangement has ended that stalemate for the better, according to Mitchell.
“The department has been in flux for that entire 16 months and it has been very unsettling not just for the chief but also the staff at the fire department and city wide because that indecision and just being in that limbo makes everyone feel uneasy,” Mitchell said. “The citizens felt the same way and I think that was reflected in the changes we saw with the actual election results.”
Mitchell pointed out that Hoppes had served as acting chief before his most recent stint and at that time was passed over in favor of Jeff Simpson, who had a short-lived tenure as chief of only about a year. Out of the last four annual budgets, Hoppes has presented three of them to the council.
As for what to expect out of Hoppes, Mitchell pointed to his already established record of nearly three decades of service, with about three years of that being spent as acting chief.
“I think we’re looking for the stability that we’ve seen from him throughout this time. He’s got 28 years in the department,” she said.
Hoppes also received a vote of confidence from the mayor.
“It has been an honor to have Acting Chief Hoppes as our chief since 2010 and twice since I came into office,” wrote Ireton. “He is an exceptional public servant and is committed to fire and EMS service for our citizens. It is with that service to others in mind that I nominate this exceptionally qualified man for the position of chief.”
Starting with the SFD in 1985 as a volunteer, Hoppes has served as a firefighter, EMT/firefighter, cardiac rescue technician, lieutenant and training officer, captain, assistant fire chief and deputy fire chief of operations. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Applied Sciences in Business Administration from Columbia Southern University and an Associate of Applied Sciences degree in Business Management from Wor-Wic Community College. Hoppes has also graduated from the National Fire Service Staff and Command curriculum.
Besides his experience and education, Hoppes is certified as a Maryland and National Firefighter II, Fire Officer IV, Fire Service Instructor III, Emergency Medical Technician-Basic, Hazardous Materials Technician and Incident Commander as well as being credentialed to teach National Incident Management courses for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
“I feel joy and happiness because I’ve finally reached a career goal that I set for myself 28 years ago,” said Hoppes. “But from a job point of view it really is no different [than acting chief].”
Mitchell pointed to Hoppes’ long career and eventual rise to chief as a perfect example of what an employee of the city should strive for.
“I think the larger message that this sends to everybody is that the sky’s the limit. You can ascend through the ranks in the City of Salisbury,” she said. “There are so many different places where you know there’s this ceiling you’re not going to break through.”
Beyond finally finding a permanent replacement for SFD chief, Mitchell views this week’s appointment of Hoppes as the first in many initiatives to come that will clear up pending items on the council’s agenda, some of which have been waiting for months or years.