FORT MILL If there aren’t sirens blaring, odds are pretty good you can find Jeff Hooper at the Fort Mill Fire Department station he’s now leading.
Hooper began as department chief Oct. 28. He’s still learning road names. He’s only just past learning his firefighters’ names.
“It’s just learning people and learning the area, who to get a hold of,” Hooper said of his first week.
It didn’t take long for the fire chief to learn what his main task would be. He showed up at a Fort Mill Town Council meeting before his start date to introduce himself to officials and other firefighters. That night, Council approved money for a new station in the quickly growing southern part of town, near Doby’s Bridge Road Park.
Residential growth and how to serve it are the biggest issues facing Fort Mill firefighters. Growth also, Hooper said, will mean more road names to commit to memory.
“The more subdivisions you have, the more courts and cul-de-sacs you have,” he said.
Hooper has an eye on residential growth in Fort Mill, but he hasn’t yet contributed to it. Hooper has a wife, 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son back in Chesnee awaiting their move here. He has a comfortable couch in his office and, for the time being, the shortest commute in town.
Staying at the office during his transition, Hooper doesn’t speak of his first thoughts each morning as he walks into the office, but rather as he opens its doors to others.
“The first thing that starts my day is to see how the guys are, see how the shift before went,” he said.
Hooper began in fire service as a teen, and stayed with it even while taking on other jobs, including work in textiles. In 1992 he began as a firefighter with the Boiling Springs Fire District in Greenville County, working his way to engineer and lieutenant in a dozen years of service. In 2004 he became chief and safety coordinator for the Weaverville Fire Department in Buncombe County, N.C.
Hooper held those positions until March of this year in the town just north of Asheville, N.C. Weaverville is a once-agricultural area that now has more than 3,500 residents. It is near several colleges and universities and has a growing downtown area, and a technical manufacturing base.
Hooper said his strengths include directing the building of new stations and having them fitted with the aparatus needed to serve growing areas. In Fort Mill, where numerous stations are in a relatively small geographic area, he believes communication will be imperative. The Flint Hill, Riverview and Tega Cay fire departments all serve the area, in addition to Fort Mill’s department.
“It’s a busy area,” Hooper said. “When you have a major fire, it takes a lot of people working together.”
Hooper is now testing and will then interview candidates for six new firefighter positions that will come with the new year, bringing the total to 20. He wants to stay out front on fire safety, meeting with developers, homeowner groups, schools and others. He hopes to meet people under pleasant circumstances and avoid having to meet them in emergencies.
But either way, he’ll be at the station, waiting.
“We’re there for you if you need us,” Hooper said.