SALISBURY — For the second time in about a year, Salisbury will be getting a new fire chief, and Mayor Jim Ireton already has a candidate in mind — current Deputy Chief Rick Hoppes.
“Someone has left,” said Ireton. “Someone who is qualified can take over.”
Former Fire Chief Jeff Simpson resigned earlier this week to pursue what Ireton referred to as “personal and professional” interests. Simpson served in his position for just over a year and dealt with some controversy over his residency. Though he had a home in Salisbury, Simpson’s family remained in his native Virginia, his personal vehicle had a Virginia license plate and he even reportedly voted in a Virginia election while serving as chief.
According to Ireton, Simpson did meet the letter of the law regarding residency and he doesn’t believe the resignation had anything to do with that issue. When pressed about Simpson’s reasoning and future plans, Ireton pointed out that why Simpson resigned and decided to head back to Virginia was not his concern, nor was whatever Simpson does with the rest of his career.
“I believe that Chief Simpson decided to go home and that is it,” Ireton said.
The mayor commended Simpson for the time he did spend is Salisbury and pointed out that, while the city will miss Simpson, it has a qualified and experienced replacement in Hoppes.
“He has constantly strived to put forth education and training in his career,” said Ireton.
He noted that Hoppes holds an Associate of Applied Sciences Degree in Business Management from Wor-Wic Community College and plans to graduate this December with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Columbia Southern University. Ireton also mentioned that Hoppes has attended a variety of education classes, training courses and conferences geared towards fire and emergency services. Additionally, 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.
During his time with the Salisbury Fire Department (SFD), which began as a volunteer in 1985 and became career in 1988, Hoppes has served in a variety of positions such as Lieutenant and Training Officer, Captain, Assistant Fire Chief, Deputy Fire Chief and Acting Fire Chief. Hoppes is currently Acting Fire Chief, a post he held prior to Simpson being hired.
Ireton was confident that Hoppes is the perfect fit for the job and promoting from within the department would spare the city the need for an exhaustive national search.
When asked if a national search might be able to produce a stronger candidate, Ireton said he expected most of the applications Salisbury would receive he’s already seen from the last search. He said none of those candidates are more qualified than Hoppes. The final decision won’t be Ireton’s, however; he can only make a recommendation to the City Council, who will then have the option of accepting or rejecting the endorsement.
For his part, Hoppes said he was “humbled” by Ireton’s recommendation and pursuant to the council offering him the position, predicts evolution in the Fire Department in the near future. “I see great challenges ahead,” he said. “I also see great opportunities for us to grow and expand our services.”
He also echoed Ireton’s praise of the job Simpson did during his short tenure with the city.
“He gave me great opportunities to serve in the department in various capacities,” said Hoppes.
If Hoppes does get the job, he may have to deal with residency questions himself, though likely not as severe as those directed at Simpson. Ireton admitted that Hoppes does not live within Salisbury’s limits but is instead “a stone’s throw from the city edge” in nearby Parsonsburg. According to Ireton, Hoppes’ address was acceptable for the job, especially in light of his more than two decades of experience with the department.
“I think he’s pretty much done his ownership,” Ireton said.
Simpson’s retirement goes into effect Jan. 20 and Ireton plans to put forth his recommendation to the council the day after. Until then and likely for some time afterwards even if he isn’t accepted, Hoppes will continue to serve as Acting Fire Chief and Ireton promised things will continue as they have under Simpson’s leadership.
“We’re still going to be out there when the fire whistle goes off … the ship keeps sailing, the buses keep running and the toilets keep flushing,” joked Ireton.