MADEIRA BEACH — Eight months after the city's fire chief, Derryl O'Neal, was fired over allegations of insubordination, the city has hired a new chief — Bill Mallory of Ocala.
Mallory was picked over 18 other applicants, including Seminole's fire chief, Daniel Graves, as well as present, former and retired chiefs and deputy chiefs from St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, and a number of other Florida cities. The applicants also included fire officials from South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, New Hampshire and New Jersey.
"We had some really good candidates, some real heavy hitters who applied for the position," City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. said Monday.
The candidates were reviewed and interviewed by a special panel that included St. Pete Beach City Manager Mike Bonfield, Treasure Island Fire Chief Charlie Fant and Deborah Cline, director of human resources for Madeira Beach.
"At the end of the process, the panel unanimously felt Mallory was the best fit," said Higginbotham, who observed all the interviews and made the final selection. "He is a hands-on guy who worked his way up through the ranks and took on a number of roles in Ocala."
Mallory, 50, officially retired Friday from his job as Ocala's deputy fire chief. He will begin his new duties in Madeira Beach March 15.
In Ocala, he was responsible for supervising the fire department's administrative and operational divisions, as well as managing battalion chiefs in charge of fire prevention, training, public education and operations. He also served as vice president, president and chief negotiator of the department's firefighters' union, IAFF 2135.
Ocala's fire department has six fire stations and about 150 employees.
Mallory began his firefighting career in 1978 and worked in Ocala for the past 28 years, where he served as a firefighter, firefighter EMT, fire equipment operator, rescue captain, fire captain, battalion chief and, finally, deputy chief.
Higginbotham says he is eager to work with Mallory to develop future budgets and programs that will enable the city's fire department to function within a climate of declining revenues.
"We don't know where the county will go with EMS funding. I would not be surprised if there was another cut coming," Higginbotham said.
Pinellas County is holding a series of public town hall meetings to find ways to cut some $60 million from next year's budget.
Higginbotham says he is expecting another drop in property tax revenues, but will not know how much until April.
In developing the fire budget, Higginbotham said he "will leave it up to Mallory to convince me what needs to be done to satisfy the objectives of the department."
One item that is definitely off the table, Higginbotham said, is any thought of consolidating services with Seminole or any other department.
It was during discussions last year about consolidating fire services that O'Neal ran into trouble.
He was fired after Higginbotham received complaints from Belleair Bluffs officials over O'Neal's perceived interference in a then-pending fire services referendum there.
At the time, O'Neal was meeting with a group of fire chiefs considering plans for the creation of a public safety improvement district that would consolidate area fire services.
After O'Neal's firing, Lt. Bill Thompson became acting chief. He declined to apply for the permanent position, according to Higginbotham.
Mallory said Monday he plans to "get my feet wet" before making any significant changes to how the department operates. He will live in Madeira Beach in a home he purchased several years ago.
"I planned to retire here. So I guess it's the same plan, but with a different spin," Mallory said.