Bennett

Bennett began as a volunteer firefighter in the early 1980s.

It’s difficult for Chief Ian Bennett to pinpoint exactly what the Harrisonburg Fire Department does best. That’s because he knows his personnel is always willing to go above and beyond in providing service to the community.

Whether it’s securing a person’s truck at the station while they wait for him to get out of the hospital or taking care of a family’s dogs after an accident, it’s the “little stuff” that makes Bennett so proud. 

“The City actively supports public safety,” Bennett said. “It’s a very rewarding job to see that when there’s an emergency, it gets taken care of.”

Since he started as a volunteer in the early ‘80’s, Bennett has maintained a love for his work as a firefighter. Bennett’s time at HFD will come to an end April 1. Even though he’s stepping down to pursue other opportunities, he recognizes that the culture of HFD is built around improvement and progress.

Under Bennett, HFD has added more paramedic-trained firefighters, updated its equipment and apparatuses, and increased training opportunities.

But, he doesn’t view these accomplishments as his own. Rather, he views them as achievements of the department, which he’s facilitated and provided with the necessary resources for his staff to achieve.

“We have an outstanding group of personnel dedicated to providing excellent service,” Bennett said. “It is very rewarding to respond to an emergency situation and take actions that have a positive impact on lives and property. The main thing I’m going to miss is the people and miss working with them all day. Their dedication to the citizens and their job is unparalleled and outstanding.”

Deputy fire chief officer of operations Steve Morse described Bennett as having an “approachable personality.” His communication allowed people across the department to feel appreciated and welcome.

“Like many others in this department, he has a true love of what we do and a true love and care for the city as a whole and this fire department,” Morse said. “We hate to see him go.”

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Bennett, who has been a firefighter since 1987, will work with the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation in April, which he’s assisted in some capacity since 2002. Its mission is to honor and recognize firefighters killed in the line of duty, help their families and prevent deaths that occur in the line of duty. Bennett will be working on programs that will assist families and departments after a death.

“The department is built on a good foundation from what Mr. Bennett has done,” Morse said.  “He has so much knowledge from his experience that I’ve used to help my own knowledge and skills. He’s getting his retirement job that he’s always wanted.” 

Over the coming weeks, the office of the City Manager will be initializing a new search for a fire chief, Michael Parks, director of communications for the city of Harrisonburg, said.  

“The department is built on a good foundation from what Mr. Bennett has done,” Morse said.  “He has so much knowledge from his experience that I’ve used to help my own knowledge and skills. He’s getting his retirement job that he’s always wanted.”

Bennett still plans on living in Harrisonburg, but his new position will take him across the country. The NFFF trains firefighters in all 50 states. 

“This is a great position for someone to come into,” Parks said. “It’s a growing department and growing city and a great team that someone will be inheriting.” 

Parks said these are big shoes to fill. Some of the qualities that Bennett has, such as being a team player and not shying away from things that need to be done, are essential for this role. Even as head of his department, it was not uncommon to see him out on a call. Parks also recognized Bennett as a great ambassador for the city.  

“We’ll miss him as a fire department chief,” Parks said. 

Contact Matthew Sasser at sasserma@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.