Thursday, May 24, 2018
Public safety

Largo names first female fire chief

LARGO — Firefighting tends to be a male-dominated, physically challenging profession.

Shelby Willis is 5 feet 4 inches tall. But that didn't stop her from climbing up the ranks to become Largo's first female fire chief and the only female fire chief in Pinellas County.

"I'm very excited and a little overwhelmed," she said Monday, her first day as chief. "I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Willis, 45, was named chief after serving as Largo's acting chief for six months. She took over in March when her predecessor, Mike Wallace, resigned during an internal investigation into his leadership style and low department morale.

Female fire chiefs are exceedingly rare. The only previous one in Pinellas County was Vicky Murphy, who led Seminole's fire department from 1996 to 2000. Murphy was the first woman to lead a professional fire department in Florida.

During Willis' 16-year career as a firefighter-paramedic, she has had to find alternate ways to complete some tasks.

"You learn how to do things smartly instead of relying on brute strength," she said six years ago when she became Largo's first female division chief. "I have to do it in a different way."

Willis went through grueling training to become Largo's first female SWAT medic.

After 53 people applied for the chief's position, Willis beat out two out-of-town finalists for the job, said Largo City Manager Mac Craig.

"Shelby has done a really good job," Craig said. "She's going to make a good chief."

"She's sharp," said Mayor Pat Gerard, adding that becoming Largo's first female fire chief is "quite an accomplishment."

Willis moved to Clearwater as a child. She spent four years as a police officer in the Air Force before returning to Florida in the early 1990s.

It was on a ride-along with a fire department during her paramedic training that Willis decided to become a firefighter. "I knew that second that's what I wanted to do," she recalled.

Willis began working for Largo as a firefighter-paramedic in 1997. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Florida in 2003. She was promoted from lieutenant, to division chief, to deputy chief.

In a Fire Department with about 150 employees but only a handful of female firefighters, Willis said she always held herself to the same standards as male colleagues.

Willis is taking over during a tricky time, as firefighter contracts are being negotiated and fire pension benefits are at issue.

"We don't have any issues running calls. We provide critical services to the public without any incident," she said. "The department has recently had a serious morale problem, and we have started to make changes to improve morale."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.

Comments
Driver killed after colliding with dump truck in south Hillsborough

Driver killed after colliding with dump truck in south Hillsborough

WIMAUMA — A 30-year-old man died on Thursday after his sedan crashed head-on into a dump truck, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash took place at about 6 p.m. on U.S. 301 near Lightfood Road.Gerardo Yslas of Immokalee was driving a 2012...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Police: Toddler injured in Bayshore racing incident has died

Police: Toddler injured in Bayshore racing incident has died

TAMPA — The 21-month-old toddler who was critically injured Wednesday when she and her mother were struck by a car racing on Bayshore Boulevard has died.The child, Lillia Raubenolt, was pronounced dead at the hospital on Thursday, police said.PREVIOU...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Bayshore race claims two lives: child dies day after mother’s death

Bayshore race claims two lives: child dies day after mother’s death

TAMPA — Jessica Raubenolt seized on the sunshine and blue sky at midday Wednesday to take her daughter out in the stroller for a walk along scenic Bayshore Boulevard. Visiting from Ohio, the family had been cursed by rain all week.At the same time, C...
Updated: 3 hours ago
One day after fatal accident, Tampa moves to lower speed limit on Bayshore Blvd

One day after fatal accident, Tampa moves to lower speed limit on Bayshore Blvd

TAMPA — City officials announced Thursday they are reducing the speed limit on Bayshore Boulevard, one day after a mother and her 21-month-old daughter were struck and fatally injured by a speeding car as they crossed the street.Starting today , city...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Pasco sheriff: Man stabbed driver, kicked officer

Pasco sheriff: Man stabbed driver, kicked officer

DADE CITY — A 42-year-old man was arrested Tuesday night after the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said he jumped on top of a car, stabbed the driver multiple times and then kicked an officer.Roscoe James faces charges of attempted murder, two counts o...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Three men charged with street racing in Bayshore Boulevard crash are recent graduates of Tampa Catholic High School

Three men charged with street racing in Bayshore Boulevard crash are recent graduates of Tampa Catholic High School

TAMPA— The Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg confirmed Thursday that the three men involved in the Bayshore Boulevard crash that killed an Ohio mother and critically injured her 21-month-old daughter are recent graduates of Tampa Catholic High Schoo...
Updated: 12 hours ago
GoFundMe page for woman killed on Bayshore has raised more than 10 times its goal

GoFundMe page for woman killed on Bayshore has raised more than 10 times its goal

TAMPA — Friends were hoping to use GoFundMe to raise $2,000 for the family of Jessica Raubenolt, who was struck and killed Wednesday while pushing her 21-month-old daughter in a stroller across Bayshore Boulevard.As of Thursday morning, more than $20...
Published: 05/24/18
Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

TAMPA — The two cars raced each other along Bayshore Boulevard just before noon, witnesses told police. One was a black 2018 Mustang. The other a gold Nissan. They sped side-by-side, trading the lead, police said, despite the traffic and pedestrians ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Clearwater deputy fire chief resigns as report on sick leave abuse is released

Clearwater deputy fire chief resigns as report on sick leave abuse is released

CLEARWATER — A months-long probe into abuse of sick leave within the fire department concluded this week with the resignation of a deputy chief and the release of an internal review.The city paid $93,816 in unearned or unauthorized sick time, benefit...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Son tells NC police he found dog leash around neck of strangled Hillsborough developer Bill Bishop

Son tells NC police he found dog leash around neck of strangled Hillsborough developer Bill Bishop

After a prominent Hillsborough County developer died last month in North Carolina, word spread it was a heart attack that claimed his life.But records from that state show the death of William "Bill" Bishop was much more complicated.His 16-year-old s...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18