LIVE OAK — With two decades of experience in helping grow Suwannee County Fire Rescue, Eddie Hand was hoping he’d receive the opportunity to continue shaping the fire service’s future.
That wish became reality as Hand was appointed interim fire chief by County Administrator Randy Harris at last week's county meeting with the appointment becoming effective Aug. 27.
“Excited, very humbled and honored are words that I could use,” Hand, who had been the assistant fire chief, said about the opportunity. “I was hoping for the opportunity due to … being part of the growth of this department.
“I’ve been an integral part of what we’ve done along with Chief (James) Sommers and our staff. We’ve worked as a team together. I was definitely honored to have the opportunity to keep us moving forward to where we need to get.”
Hand replaces Sommers, his longtime friend, who was killed Aug. 6 in a motorcycle crash in Lake City. Sommers and Hand attended fire school together.
Hand then began with the Suwannee County Fire Department in 1998 and has helped it grown and develop into Suwannee County Fire Rescue. He has spent 18 of his 20-plus years with the department in leadership positions.
“It is definitely bittersweet,” Hand said of replacing his friend. “But I’m definitely honored and excited to have the opportunity to continue our mission that we’ve been working on for so long.”
Now Hand said the mission will be to continue the service SCFR already provides, which includes the involvement in community activities and outreach at festivals and other events.
He also said Fire Rescue will be challenged moving forward by the community’s continued growth.
“We’ve got a lot of issues to combat over the next few years as the county grows,” he said, adding that hopefully they can even expand on some of their community outreach programs. “We’ll continue to just work towards growing the service to meet the needs of the community.”
One area that Hand would like to see additional growth is in the recruitment of more local individuals into going the department, people that Hand said know the community and want to remain part of Suwannee County.
“My main goal is, we’ve been fortunate to hire some really good folks from outside our community, but we’re working to get some of our local people involved in the service,” he said. “We know that are going to want to come work here and retire from here.
“That’s my main goal right now is to try and get local people involved in what we’re doing.”
For Harris, making Hand the interim chief was a no-brainer, especially after extensive meetings with Hand and Fire Marshal Tim White in recent weeks. White now assumes the deputy fire chief position.
Harris said during those meetings it was evident that Hand was eager to take on the additional responsibilities that come with serving as interim chief. Harris added that with an interim chief, he would work closely with Hand to help keep things moving forward.
“I’m convinced he's dedicated and passionate about taking on that role,” he said. “I’m as committed as he is to ensuring that that organization continues to flourish and carry on that torch that Chief Sommers had begun on seven years ago.
“He’s been there, he’s familiar with the organization, there’s no need for us to go out and undertake a star search…I’m excited about Eddie stepping in.”