Joseph W. Dixon Sr. will be Gainesville’s first Black fire chief.
Dixon, who most recently served as fire chief of Goldsboro, North Carolina, will begin with Gainesville Fire Rescue March 15. He said he is glad to represent African Americans and all members of the Gainesville community.
“I stand on the shoulders of many that went through so much over the years to afford me the opportunity to be a fire chief,” Dixon said. “I will never discount that.”
He graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s in fire science and from Waldorf College with a master’s in executive leadership/fire and rescue. He is also a graduate of the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program, which trains officers on how to deal with problems within their communities. He said his track record and his education and credential have demonstrated competency and presented him as the best candidate.
Interim Fire Chief JoAnne Rice, who was the first woman to lead the department as interim chief, will retire Feb. 9. Fire Marshal Stephen Hesson will serve as interim fire chief from Feb. 9 until Dixon’s start date. The department has had a Black interim fire chief before.
As fire chief, Dixon will be responsible for overseeing operations, management and leading the department. He said he plans to introduce new ways to provide public safety services and address community health needs.
Assessing the fire department and evaluating its mission are some of his priorities, he said in a press conference Jan. 27. He said he created a 100-day plan for how he will lead as fire chief and how he will hold his team accountable.
Gainesville spokesperson Rossana Passaniti said the city is very pleased to have someone of Dixon’s caliber on board.
“Chief Dixon is very passionate about community health,” Passaniti said. “Once he has the opportunity to work in Gainesville and meet the community and evaluate the resources already in place, we'll be able to implement a lot of the good ideas that he has.”
Dixon said he is looking forward to encouraging people and making the community better. He describes his leadership style as adaptive, and that he helps develop his team to give them the opportunity to be successful, he said. He said his legacy is about encouraging people on his team to prepare them to be better than they ever thought they could be.
“The fire team has to be politically astute and able to bring people together, build relationships and find ways to get things done in a world that's changing,” he said.
Dixon said he hopes to inspire girls and boys of any background that they, too, can one day be a fire chief.
“I'm certainly looking forward to embark on a new journey,” he said. “It’s the next chapter in my life.”
Contact Michelle Holder at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @michellecholder.
Michelle Holder is a second-year journalism student at UF minoring in entrepreneurship and a Metro reporter at The Alligator. She is from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. In her free time she enjoys going to coffee shops and reading.