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Fire Chief Daley retiring after 33 years

Subheadline: 
Served 17 years in Jasper County, plans to start chaplaincy program

  • JCST file photo Wilbur Daley is retiring after 33 years in fire service, including the last 17 with Jasper County Fire-Rescue. Daley has been fire chief since 2008. He plans to continue at his post until the county finds his replacement.
  • JCST file photo Wilbur Daley is resigning after 33 years in fire service. Daley has been fire chief since 2008.
  • JCST file photo Wilbur Daley

Wilbur Daley’s leaving his position as Jasper County Fire Chief and Director of Emergency Services, but he intends to stay actively involved in the community.

Daley informed county administrator Andy Fulghum on Monday that he plans to retire after 33 years in fire service, including the last 17 years with Jasper County. Daley’s been the fire chief since 2008.

Daley, 54, will continue to work until the county finds his replacement, which could take a couple of months.

“I want it to be as easy for the county as possible,” Daley said. “I want to be here for the transition to help whoever comes in.”

Fulghum expects the process of hiring a new fire chief will take about 90 days.

Once a new fire chief is named, Daley intends to take a few months off, which will include focusing on his woodworking, before he reinvests himself in the county by starting a chaplaincy program.

Daley, who has been a deacon at Great Swamp Baptist Church in Ridgeland since the early 1990s, said he wants to help the employees in the county who might need someone to talk to if they’ve had traumatic experiences.

“We don’t have that,” said Daley, who hopes to start the program within six months to a year after his official last day as fire chief. “I don’t know if anybody has someone they can go to with their problems, somebody to talk to. That’s where my heart is at. I enjoy talking with people, that’s what I want to do. I want people to know I’m not going to forget about them.”

Daley, who was raised in Ridgeland and graduated from Thomas Heyward Academy in 1981, has been a fixture at Great Swamp Baptist since he began attending the church in 1982. He said his strong faith is guiding him into the next phase of his life.

“Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, I owe him everything,” Daley said. “He died on the cross for me. I feel that my responsibility now is to do as much work for Him as I can.”

He believes church gives him an extra burst of energy each week.

“I feel like it’s a charging point to go back to church,” he said. “I’m working in a worldly setting all week, but Wednesday and Sunday you go to church to build it back up. I get re-charged at church.”

Said Fulghum: “We all know Wilbur’s faith is strong and his retirement will give him more time to do the work that is nearest and dearest to his heart.”

‘It’s about helping somebody’

Fire service wasn’t always Daley’s calling. He had aspirations to be a collegiate football star after he helped Thomas Heyward win three SCISA state titles and he thought about a career in law enforcement, but he was working at Palmetto Electric on Hilton Head in 1983 when he’d often see fire trucks racing to calls.

The flurry of trucks and wailing sirens caught his attention.

“I thought, ‘That looks pretty interesting,’ ” Daley said.

He began volunteering at Ridgeland’s fire department and in 1986 was hired at Hilton Head’s fire department.

Daley quickly learned what the job was all about.

“It wasn’t just about riding a big red truck, with sirens and lights, it’s about helping somebody,” he said.

He began working for Jasper County as a firefighter-EMT in 2000. He eventually became captain at the Cherry Point Station and was assistant fire chief before being named the county’s fire chief in June 2008.

In his tenure, the county’s ISO rating dropped from a Class 5/9 to a Class 4.

The ISO rating scale measures Class 1 through Class 10, with Class 1 being the best and Class 10 the worst. Most insurance companies use fire department ISO ratings to determine rates for property insurance.

Daley oversees a staff of 60 full-time and 20 part-time employees, and 30 volunteers. Last year, JCFR responded to 4,300 calls. The work’s always kept him busy, but Daley said he loves being with the JCFR people.

“The organization as a whole is more family-oriented,” he said. “For me, I know everybody (in the department), I talk with them. I’ve got an awesome group of people who work here.”

His respect for the staff was fortified last October during Hurricane Matthew. The Category 2 storm offered Daley his greatest challenge, but he’s proud of how his staff responded.

“Our department handled the storm as well as anybody could have,” he said. “Everybody pulled together, everybody was willing to do their job – they were ready to work.”

That hard work proves to Daley that his successor could be someone currently working in his department.

“I’m sure there’s a number of people that have the knowledge, ability and the drive to do what I do,” he said. “I hope the next person has the ability to continue moving things forward.”

Daley looks forward to spending more time with his wife Debra and being in the woodworking workshop he built at his house. He’ll continue to spread the Lord’s word at church.

He's grateful to have spent most of his career in his home county, which he expressed in his retirement letter.

“It’s been an honor working for this county,” Daley wrote. “I could not have asked for any better place to end my career.”

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