Sunday, June 17, 2018
Public safety

New fire chief starts in Safety Harbor

SAFETY HARBOR — Florida was never on the radar for Josh Stefancic, who started his fire service career in the suburbs of Chicago.

But then a mentor encouraged him to think bigger, so he applied for a job at Tarpon Springs Fire Rescue. He left a blizzard in the throes of winter to visit the area and thought, "Man, this is really nice."

Now, more than a decade later, Stefancic, 38, has been hired to lead the Safety Harbor Fire Department, taking over for Chief Joe Accetta, who is retiring after 37 years with the department. The move fulfills a longtime goal for Stefancic, who was most recently fire marshal for Largo Fire Rescue.

"My dream has always been to be a fire chief," Stefancic said. "I’m so blessed and thankful to have the opportunity to do it in the community I’ve lived in for the past 10 years."

Stefancic started the job Monday. Accetta is sticking around through the end of June to show him the ropes, City Manager Matt Spoor said. The department consists of 30 employees and two fire stations.

The applicant pool started with about 50 people, which was eventually narrowed down to five finalists. It included two district chiefs from the St. Pete Beach Fire Department, the deputy chief from Dunedin Fire Rescue and a fire chief from a small suburb of Atlanta.

Stefancic was Spoor’s top choice.

"I’m just impressed with him as an individual and as a leader," Spoor said, "(and) his knowledge of fire and EMS."

His salary is $100,000 a year. Accetta, the chief since 2009, made $104,915.

Stefancic, acknowledging he "has big shoes to fill," said his first priority is to build relationships and learn more about the department.

He also wants to familiarize himself with Safety Harbor’s hurricane emergency management plan, drawing on his experience with Largo, where he was designated as the liaison representing the city at the county’s Emergency Operations Center during Hurricane Irma.

And, finally, he plans to work closely with the union representing firefighters and assess the city’s emergency medical services funding. The department is one of 18 that contracts with Pinellas County for EMS.

"I don’t operate in a silo," he said. "I want to work with everyone."

Spoor said he expects the new chief to ingrain himself in Safety Harbor’s internal culture, which he described as "a large family business," and meet the high expectations of the city’s residents.

"I’m not looking for him to recreate the wheel," Spoor said. "I’m just looking for him to take what we have and make it better."

Stefancic has a Bachelor’s of Science in Fire Protection and Safety Technology and a Master of Science in Fire and Emergency Management Administration from Oklahoma State University.

He lives in Tarpon Springs.

Times staff writer McKenna Oxenden contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

Comments
Motorcyclist and pedestrian die in Pasco crash

Motorcyclist and pedestrian die in Pasco crash

NEW PORT RICHEY — A motorcyclist and pedestrian both died in a crash Saturday night near Palmetto Road and U.S. 19, police reported.About 10:30 p.m., a St. Petersburg man, 41, was riding a 2012 Honda motorcycle north on the highway, according to the ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
1 dead, 20 injured in New Jersey arts festival shooting

1 dead, 20 injured in New Jersey arts festival shooting

TRENTON, N.J — Shooting broke out at an all-night art festival in Trenton, New Jersey, early Sunday, sending people stampeding from the scene and leaving one suspect dead and 20 people injured, a local prosecutor said. Many of the 20 injured were tre...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Mazzaro’s Italian Market closed after Friday night warehouse fire

Mazzaro’s Italian Market closed after Friday night warehouse fire

ST. PETERSBURG — Mazzaro’s Italian Market will be closed throughout the weekend after a warehouse fire broke out Friday.A St. Petersburg Police officer noticed smoke coming from the market at 22nd Ave. N around midnight Friday, said St. Petersburg F...
Published: 06/16/18
A fentanyl death. A crackdown on opioid dealers. Will it help?

A fentanyl death. A crackdown on opioid dealers. Will it help?

TAMPA — Loueita Hargens had known for years how her son Bradley Dykes would die. She had seen him cycle through drugs of choice, had lost track of the number of times he’d wound up in the hospital or prison.A recovering alcoholic herself, she cut him...
Published: 06/16/18
Deputies: Body found in Pasco lake is New Port Richey man, 74

Deputies: Body found in Pasco lake is New Port Richey man, 74

Deputies identified a body found in Frierson Lakes in Hudson on Thursday as a 74-year-old New Port Richey man.Kress Luebke’s kayak was seen overturned in the water on Thursday night, according to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.A resident living along Fri...
Updated: 4 hours ago
St. Petersburg police make arrest 31 years after sexual assault

St. Petersburg police make arrest 31 years after sexual assault

ST. PETERSBURG — Police arrested a man Friday in connection with a 31-year-old sexual assault case and believe he’s connected to other unsolved cases from decades ago.Anthony Stokes, 56, faces a charge of armed sexual battery, according to St. Peters...
Published: 06/15/18
Records detail Wrigley heir’s $480,000 betrayal by trusted employees

Records detail Wrigley heir’s $480,000 betrayal by trusted employees

ODESSA — One day in the summer of 2014, Helen Rich spotted a Facebook post about an aging black Labrador in Kansas named Lady who badly needed a new home. The author and heir to the Wrigley gum fortune had recently lost her own Black lab. Rich decide...
Published: 06/15/18
Hillsborough Hispanic women targeted in lottery scam

Hillsborough Hispanic women targeted in lottery scam

TAMPA — Maria Pena-Lebron, 83, was walking out of Fresco y Mas with her groceries in May when she was approached by a woman wearing a straw hat, who pleaded with her for help. The stranger claimed to be an undocumented immigrant and therefore unable ...
Published: 06/15/18
Tampa fire captain demoted for stripping off shirt, daring homeless man to fight

Tampa fire captain demoted for stripping off shirt, daring homeless man to fight

TAMPA — Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Jeremy Finney was, by all accounts, a model firefighter — until he lost his cool. The outburst cost him two ranks.Finney has served nearly 16 years in the department and was a member of the Tactical Medical Response Te...
Published: 06/15/18
Coaster that derailed in Daytona Beach had reported safety issues in 2017

Coaster that derailed in Daytona Beach had reported safety issues in 2017

DAYTONA BEACH — Two roller coaster riders fell 34 feet (10 meters) when their car derailed and was left dangling from the track, and firefighters used ladders to pull eight others to safety high above the Daytona Beach Boardwalk. "The front car which...
Published: 06/15/18