This week’s Hometown Hero, presented by Hendrick Southpoint, Vencelin Harris — the Fire Chief for the Town of Chapel Hill.
This week marks one year on the job in Harris’ new position, but he is no stranger to emergency services. He was previously Chapel Hill’s emergency management coordinator but he took over a new position at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ran Northam, Chapel Hill’s interim communications manager, has gotten to see the heroic work Harris does everyday.
“This is quite a mountain for all of us to climb, but to take over a department — much less a public safety department — during a pandemic, just what an amazing feat and Chief Harris has done an outstanding job in his first year,” Northam said.
One of Chief Harris’ essential duties is overseeing the behind-the-scenes aspects of public safety. While the firefighters, captains, etc. are managing safety outside, the Fire Chief works to manage everything.
“What the fire chief really has to do is make sure that the people inside are taken care of.”
In the COVID-19 pandemic, firefighters have been taught to keep up with health and safety precautions. This is difficult at times, Northam said, because crews work “as if they’re family.”
He added that Harris has worked to take care of family members of the fire department as well. If a member of the fire department gets sick, it is Harris’ responsibility to ensure his employees are safe and their duties are still covered within the town.
In addition, Northam added that Harris’ everyday heroism goes beyond his departmental duties.
“He’s reached out to say, I just want to check in on you and make sure you’re okay,” Northam said.
“I don’t report to him. I’m in the communications department. So it’s not in his job description to reach out to me, but he does. I’m sure that I’m not the only one, there’s others that he’s reaching out to and doing that same thing. That really does go a long way.”
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