SFD celebrates new Assistant Chiefs

Published 6:43 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

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Suffolk Fire Department is celebrating three of its first responders as they recently were promoted to newly created assistant chief positions.

During separate ceremonies, the department installed David P. Harrell, James “J.B.” Broglin and Dimitri Wilson as assistant chiefs. Each previously served in battalion chief roles. 

The assistant chief trio, alongside Fire Chief Michael J. Barakey discussed their new roles within the department. The three noted how exciting they find the opportunity, with Wilson pointing to the division’s growth over the past five years.

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“The biggest part of this organization is the men and women that are in these fire trucks everyday [who] are servicing the citizens in every aspect,” Wilson said. “Being in this role, it allows us to give them the resources they need that helps secure whatever’s required for them to mitigate incidents. The equipment, the training, that’s our role. It’s support for them. Growing the administrative side of the building, the command staff, the executive leadership, it allows more parameters and lanes for us to build that.”

Each talked about what got them into serving in the fire department.

During his studies in 1995 at Tidewater Community College, Harrell originally believed he would follow his father’s footsteps by joining the military. While working at the Bennett’s Creek Nursery, however, this goal changed after he met “a ton” of volunteer firefighters. 

After attending and graduating from the fire academy, Harrell made his way to SFD in January 1997. 

He reflected on those days meeting the volunteers. 

“Working in there, meeting all the guys and just hearing the stories of helping people, the excitement, is how I got introduced to the fire service,” Harrell said. “I just got hooked, there’s something about the fire service, you catch it and you just get this bug and the excitement of going out the unknown of helping people.”

For Broglin, who grew up in Portsmouth, having a fire station in his neighborhood was always exciting as he heard the sirens and waved to firefighters in their trucks. After moving to Suffolk in 1987, Broglin also worked at Bennett’s Creek Nursery and noticed a lot of his high school peers volunteering as junior firefighters.

“I reluctantly didn’t join the Junior Fire Corp, I just continued to do my thing. I graduated high school in 1991 and immediately joined the fire department,” Broglin said. “Like Dave said, you just catch a bug. You go to these calls where it’s perhaps the worst time in somebody’s life and you can just go to that and help them and make things better. It’s just such a rewarding career.”

After staying until 1999, Broglin decided to make the jump to a career in fire services. Once hired, he never looked back.

Wilson, a Virginia Beach native, said his later start as a firefighter came after his service in the Marines. He said a family friend of his dad served at the Virginia Beach Fire Department and was struck by his “aura” as a firefighter. 

This led to Wilson volunteering with the department in the mid-90s, adding that he loved it.

“It was just inspiring for me. Being in the academy and that first day riding as a volunteer, it just felt like you belong. It was not a niche, it was a calling,” he said. “From there, moving forward in 1999, I was able to become a professional firefighter with the City of Suffolk and never looked back.”

Selection process

Barakey said the department had eight chief officers compete for the three assistant chief positions. 

While all eight were wonderful candidates, Barakey said he chose the three men based on their wisdom, experience and past work. 

He also pointed out that Harrell will lead finance budgeting, with Broglin in human resources and Wilson in special operations.

“As we made a decision, myself and the two deputy fire chiefs, we felt like Dave, J.B. and Dimitri fit what we needed at this point in our organization to take on very necessary roles to move this organization forward,” Barakey said. “I have three officers, and I have many more. I have five chief officers right now that [have] competed for this, that can serve in this role as well. They’ll have an opportunity because we’re still growing. But these three great officers, the fire chief said. “Wise, experienced, knowledgeable, but one thing that I love about them is that there’s no project or opportunity that they’re not willing to accept and to deliver the high level of quality.”

When asked what their individual goals as they assume the new roles, each said they are not focused on individual ones but place their priority in being a team. 

Harrell pointed to the importance of this concept.

“We all have individual responsibilities, but what I’ve seen in just our collaboration so far is we’re doing it together,” Harrell said. “So we are never an individual because we’re always a part of a team. That’s an exciting thing as we move forward. ‘Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier,’ and that’s kind of what we’re bringing to this department right now.”