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Chief Vlasis retires from SMFD, replacement interviewing in January

Fire Chief John Vlasis set aside his Signal Mountain fireman’s helmet this month for the last time, retiring after six years of service to the mountaintop community.

“You find your niche in life,” said the 60-year-old local resident. “My dad was a doctor and I thought about going to medical school, but then I thought that’s not for me.”

Instead, he received his associate’s degree in emergency medical services, continuing his education with other training as he continued his career. He retired from the Chattanooga Fire Department after 28 years but he didn’t remain inactive for long. In 2006 he was selected by the town of Signal Mountain, which needed a “progressive” new fire chief to revamp and improve its own fire department.

“They must have thought I was progressive, so they hired me,” Vlasis laughed. “I’m just a good chief because my people are good; they have great core values.”

During his years at the Signal Mountain firehouse, Vlasis expanded the program, increasing the number of EMTs on the force from three to 14 and widening the scope of medical care provided in order to better treat citizens.

He said the best thing about his total 40 years as a firefighter is the people he met along the way.

“I see a lot of bad things in my business — death and destruction — but I met some really fine people in emergency services,” he said. “There are so many unsung heroes that do extraordinary deeds that the general public never hears about. They make a sacrifice every day they go in.

“Their families also make a great sacrifice,” Vlasis added. “I’m so lucky to have a strong wife that understood.”

According to Town Manager Honna Rogers, the town of Signal Mountain has received interest from applicants nationwide for the open fire chief position; more than expected. The interview process will fully commence in January; until then, Rogers said Capt. Kevin Nichols will share the chief’s duties with her during the interim.

Rogers said she plans to narrow the search down to five applicants for interviews, who will then be considered by an interview panel made up of officials from different towns, including a city manager, fire chief and human resources director. After interacting with the applicants through a day of exercises, the panel will provide a recommendation to Rogers.

“I would think that the third week of January someone will be chosen,” she said.

Of the shoes that the new fire chief will fill, Rogers said, “Vlasis really worked hard to bring the Signal Mountain Fire Department to a first-rate fire department. The firemen had great leadership under him.”

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