As the new fire chief in Surfside Beach was sworn in before town council members, residents and service personnel — a familiar sound was winding down in the distance.
Twenty years after Anthony Fox first heard the piercing shrill of the siren that would lead him to commit to fire service, an on-duty Surfside Beach personnel responded to a call that beckoned as Fox placed his hand on the bible and vowed to serve and protect the town’s residents.
“Fire service is my heart,” he said, the night of the Sept. 23 swearing.
Fox explained that he also has worked in law enforcement but remained active in fire service because [he’s] “able to go out and help people when they really need it,” and because he loves the environment of the firehouse and the relationship formed between all the firefighters.
“You have to work really hard but mainly it’s just plain fun. I have a really good time when we are out on the road answering calls,” he said.
Fox said he was flattered and at a loss for words after being told he was selected as the new chief – noting the loss for words doesn’t happen often.
“I’ve always been impressed with Surfside,” he said of the department comprised of volunteer and career (paid) firefighters, a paid fire chief and a part-time fire marshal.
“They’re dedicated, motivated and well trained.”
The fire department recently received an ISO 1 rating by Insurance Services Office (ISO), which reflects the overall effectiveness of the department while it helps insurance companies set premiums and rates that property owners pay for coverage in a given community. Fox said the rating is a “great foundation and road map” and plans to increase training along with the continuance of training with Horry County Fire and Rescue.
Fox said the department is also looking into transitioning the part time position of fire marshal to full time.
“This will be very beneficial,” Fox said, adding that having a full-time fire marshal will allow the department to provide more pre-inspections to new businesses.
Public outreach programs with public education on fire safety and the importance of smoke detectors will continue but Fox stressed his No. 1 goal is to ensure the safety of the community.
When he’s not busy with the fire service, Fox, 37, spends his time “chasing kids” — sons William, 5, and Harrison, 2.
Fox took over duties after chief Dan Cimini retired from a fire service career that has spanned 53 years.
Prior to his last day on Oct. 9, Fox’s predecessor recalled a few highlights of a career that has had his heart.
As he listened, Fox smiled and said “I have 24 more hours with him, the mentoring and advice [from Cimini] has been very important.”
Cimini, whose retirement itinerary started with a move to Cocoa Beach, Fla., to fish and relax, described Fox as “the natural choice” of the 68 people who applied for the job.
Born in Atlantic City, N.J., Fox said he grew up in Philadelphia, and attended North Eastern University in Boston and Francis Marion University.
A former South Carolina highway patrol officer, Fox worked as part of the state’s DUI team, as an emergency medical technician (EMT) for American Medical Response (AMR) and at one time was juggling three jobs — working for the Florence County Sheriff’s department, and as an EMT and a firefighter in Florence County.
A fire service career that began as a volunteer when he was a student at a boarding school in Bryn-Athyn, Pennsylvania, Fox joined the SC Highway Patrol in 2008 and was later stationed in Horry County as part of a DUI enforcement unit.
One night on the drive home to Florence during his month-long DUI assignment, he said he “saw a huge firehouse” and pulled into the Surfside FD with a proposition: if they gave him a place to stay for a month, he would run fire calls in exchange.
After learning the position of fire chief was going to be vacated by Cimini, Fox applied.
Surfside Beach town manager Micki Fellner said Fox’s qualifications attributed to a high ranking on a scoring system used to select a new chief.
“His score, when matching his qualifications with all of the job requirements, was very high. In addition, he was ranked extremely high by Chief Cimini and the professional interview team, who are the experts in the field,” Fellner said. “His history clearly indicates that he loves firefighting and is good at it.”
But Cimini, the town manager and town council were looking for more than love.
And Fox possessed the qualities and skills “that [were] equivalent or greater than the combined experience and education level of the previous fire chief,” Cimini explained.
“He’s personable, professional, and as a former state trooper, the level of command was present plus he knew the volunteers and career firefighters and was well liked.”
Once the applicant pool was narrowed to a dozen, a professional interview team of high ranking officers in fire service –including members from the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs –were brought in to interview eight after four withdrew.
Then there were three.
Cimini said after another interview process, seven days, meetings and discussions that sometimes lasted for two hours or more, an executive session was held Sept. 9 and the remaining candidates “were given a 1, 2, & 3 rating,” Cimini said.
Fox’s No. 1 rating landed him the job.
“He [Fox] understands people, communities, knows how to diffuse potentially volatile situations, handle emergencies, triage complex situations and he is extremely organized,” Fellner said. “In short, he has all the credentials and reasoning skills to make an excellent fire chief,” Fellner said.