For the new chief, it's a deja vu deal

Largo reached next door to Seminole and rehired their former fire officer, Michael Wallace.

By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Published September 30, 2007

LARGO - A former city fire official has been hired to lead Largo's fire department.

Michael Wallace, who now serves as Seminole's assistant chief, will take the helm in the wake of two tumultuous top-level exits.

"It will be a challenge," Wallace said last week, "but not an insurmountable one."

He comes to Largo, planning to return a sense of "continuity and calm" to the department.

"My role will be to take those excellent people that are there and give them direction."

That's important, because two of Wallace's predecessors left under unusual circumstances.

Former fire chief Jeff Bullock, a 27-year veteran, resigned in late April amid an internal investigation.

Karry Bell, who was with the department for almost 29 years, replaced Bullock as acting chief. He was forced to resign in August after a heated exchange with a firefighter. He plans to challenge his termination.

But Wallace said those recent departures don't make him wary about his own prospects.

"Those two exits weren't arbitrary," Wallace said. "As long as I do my job in line with the mission of the city, I'm going to be okay.

Wallace reports for duty in Largo on Oct. 15, the day after his 52nd birthday. He began his career in public safety about 25 years ago as an emergency medical technician for Madeira Beach. He joined Largo Fire Rescue as firefighter-paramedic in 1986, and worked his way up the ranks, serving as chief over various divisions before leaving Largo in 2004.

Largo City Manager Norton "Mac" Craig said Wallace had steep competition, but his local knowledge set him apart.

With Wallace in the running, city officials made some changes to city rules so it would be possible to rehire him. Before, there was no mechanism to rehire employees who retired.

On Sept. 18, city commissioners granted initial approval to changes in the police and fire pension plan. The changes would halt retirees' benefit payments when they're rehired, but let them earn additional credits while they work for the city. The changes come before the commission for final approval Tuesday.

Wallace also serves as chairman of the operations committee for the Pinellas County Fire Chiefs Association. And he's coordinator of the state's local assistance team, which supports departments and families that lose firefighters in the line of duty.

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.


Michael J. Wallace

Born: Oct. 14, 1955

Annual salary: $95,000

Career: Started as an EMT for Madeira Beach Fire Department in 1982. Joined Largo Fire Rescue in 1986 as firefighter-paramedic. Served as lieutenant, district chief and division chief over various divisions. Seminole Fire Rescue assistant chief since 2004.

Largo Fire Rescue: 130 sworn firefighters, 14 civilians. The department fights fires and provides emergency medical services to more than 100,000 people.