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New Chief Must Tackle Changing Fire Dept.

By Lila de Tantillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 19, 2004; Page LZ01

County officials say Loudoun's new chief of fire, rescue and emergency management services has the background to cope with a rapidly growing population and to balance the needs of a combined volunteer and career firefighting force.

Joseph E. Pozzo, the chief of fire and rescue in Portsmouth, Va., replaces Robert P. Griffin Jr., who resigned in May to become director of Arlington County's new office of emergency management.


Pozzo, 45, who will start work in Loudoun on Jan. 13, was chosen after a nationwide search that drew 55 applicants. He took part in an unusual public session with competing candidates, community leaders and local officials designed to help County Administrator Kirby M. Bowers make his selection.

"He really conveyed a real sensitivity and understanding of that partnership between career and volunteer firefighters," said Bowers, who announced Pozzo's hiring Thursday. "In the final analysis, Joe really showed me that he understood what we're trying to achieve here in Loudoun County."

Pozzo has been fire chief in Portsmouth since 2002. As a teenager, he was a volunteer firefighter in Virginia Beach and began his career in public safety as a paramedic in 1978 in Norfolk. In 1983 he joined the Virginia Beach Fire Department, where he served on its hazardous materials team, as a health and safety officer and as a fire medical control officer, among other duties. Virginia Beach also has a combined fire department, and, Pozzo said, "As I rose through the ranks there, I already have lived through some of those growing pains."

Pozzo's appointment comes as breakneck growth is forcing dramatic changes in the way Loudoun is governed. New residents are much less interested in volunteering as firefighters, and hiring more professionals is a costly and sensitive matter.

In his new job, which pays $116,000 a year, Pozzo will be responsible for an annual budget of $29.5 million and for more than 1,300 volunteers and 300 paid staff, including career firefighters, rescue workers and administrative personnel. Fire and rescue incidents increased from 17,942 in fiscal 2003 to 19,286 in fiscal 2004.

"From a citizen's perspective, it ought to be seamless -- it doesn't really matter if a career or volunteer shows up at the scene," said Bowers, who said he hoped Pozzo would serve as a mentor to the increasing number of young firefighters. In addition, Bowers said he expected the new fire chief to work with the sheriff and the county health department in preparing for homeland security emergencies and other disasters.

"With the growth in Loudoun County, there's tremendous challenges ahead of us," Bowers said.

Pozzo's hiring highlighted the tough competition for government workers in the area, especially law enforcement employees, as federal agencies and local governments vie for top talent in an era of increased security concerns. Griffin's departure opened up an big hole at the top of Loudoun's government as the county struggles to fill many other positions, from school principals to sheriff's deputies, needed to serve its burgeoning population.

Pozzo said one of his priorities would be to examine staff recruitment and retention within the department. "If people leave the service, then we want to know why," he said.

Pozzo has a bachelor's degree in public administration from Florida-based Saint Leo University as well as an associate's degree in liberal arts and an associate's degree in fire science and protective services.

Supervisor James E. Clem (R-Leesburg) said that in addition to Pozzo's professional and educational qualifications, he was impressed with the candidate's preparation before meeting with Loudoun officials.

"It was obvious that he'd reviewed our complete program in Loudoun County, and he had a good knowledge of our combined [volunteer and career] system," said Clem, who is chairman of the county board's Public Safety Committee. "He had gone into our service plans, our demographics and studies our previous commission had developed."

Staff writer Michael Laris contributed to this report.

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