SOUTH PASADENA — A passing fire truck changed Dave Mixson's life.
As a teenager, he planned to become a math teacher and baseball coach. But a couple of tough math courses in community college and a stint as a part-time teacher changed that.
Unsure what to do next, Mixson went to his father for advice. At that moment, a fire truck went by, sirens blaring.
So he asked his dad: "How would one become a fireman?"
Eighteen months later, Mixson was a paramedic — the first step in a 23-year career as a paramedic, firefighter and deputy fire chief for Largo Fire Rescue.
That career took him to South Pasadena, where he was sworn in July 5 as the city's new Director of Public Safety and fire chief.
Mixson, 47, said his years working in Largo have prepared him well.
"I'm most looking forward to the unknown and the challenges it'll bring," he said. "I think it's a great organization that I get the chance to lead."
As deputy fire chief in Largo (population 84,500), Mixson helped manage a department with six fire stations staffed by 136 firefighters and emergency medical technicians. His salary was $99,455 a year.
In South Pasadena (population 5,100), he now leads a fire department with one station with a staff of 17, including himself. His salary will be $96,776.
His duties will include more than overseeing firefighters and paramedics. He'll also be in charge of fire inspections, safety initiatives, crime watch programs and he will serve as city liaison with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which provides law enforcement services to South Pasadena.
Mixson doesn't see his new position working for a smaller city and agency as a step down in any way. He said he has always admired the South Pasadena Fire Department and Dayton Saltsman, who recently retired as chief after spending nearly four decades working for Pinellas fire departments.
"Working in Pinellas for (almost) 25 years, you run calls with them and you hear about calls that they're on," Mixson said. "You hear it's a well-run organization."
He also knows South Pasadena well. His home in St. Petersburg is just 3 miles from his new fire station. He also noted that all three of his children — now ages 12, 15 and 18 — attended the preschool at Pasadena Community Church, where he and his family have been members for 15 years.
"I have a connection with the community," he said. "We eat there. We bowl at Ten Pin Lanes. It's a community."
Mixson has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Saint Leo University in Pasco County and a master's in emergency management through an online program at Eastern Kentucky University.
He holds local and state certifications in special weapons and tactics, the management of both hazardous materials and brush fires, and emergency management coordination. His personnel file in Largo is brimming with commendations and positive evaluations.
He was one of 23 applicants for the South Pasadena job, according to Gail Neidinger, the city commissioner who oversees the fire department. A community group narrowed the field to six candidates, she said, then selected Mixson after two interviews.
As he gets started, Mixson said, he plans to stress educating the public about fall prevention in a city where the median age is about 70.
The high-rise Fountains retirement facility at 1255 South Pasadena Blvd. leads all of Pinellas County in the number of emergency medical calls because of the number of falls there, according to South Pasadena Deputy Fire Chief Emery Culverhouse.
Another priority for Mixson will be hurricane preparedness. Most of the city is bounded by water and is in the very first evacuation level for the county, so getting ready for a storm "is that much more important to prepare for," Mixson said.
"An educated public has a better chance of being a prepared public."
Evy Guerra is a student journalist at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.