Fire chief hopefuls meet the public

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Barry Overman, deputy chief of operations for the Elizabeth City Fire Department, (left) is one of four finalists for the city's vacant fire chief's job. He's seen here Tuesday at a meet-and-greet event for the four finalists at the Halstead Boulevard Extended Fire Station.


By William F. West
Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Three of the four finalists seeking to become Elizabeth City’s next fire chief are local residents and two are current members of the city’s fire department.

Corey Mercer of Rocky Mount and Chris Carver, Barry Overman and Paul Pureza, all of Elizabeth City, were introduced to the public Tuesday evening during a meet-and-greet event for the finalists at the fire station on Halstead Boulevard.

Overman and Carver are current members of the city fire department.

Overman, 48, is the Elizabeth City Fire Department’s deputy chief of operations. He has been with the city fire department for 29 years. He also has served 30 years as a volunteer with the Weeksville Volunteer Fire Department.

Carver, 46, is the Elizabeth City Fire Department’s deputy chief of administration and fire marshal. He’s been with the city fire department for 18 years. He also has served 20 years a volunteer with the Inter-County Volunteer Fire Department in Perquimans County.

Pureza, 54, is a battalion chief with the Virginia Beach Fire Department. He has 34 years of experience as a firefighter. Prior to joining the Virginia Beach Fire Department, he worked two years as a firefighter in Elizabeth City.

Mercer, 47, is a battalion chief with the Rocky Mount Fire Department. He’s served as a firefighter for 24 years, all of it in Rocky Mount.

Carver said he wants to be the city's fire chief because he believes it would be the logical next step for his career. He also wants to be part of the decision-making when it comes to planning the city’s future fire protection services.

“I think we're coming up on some good times here in Elizabeth City. And I just want to be part of that, and part of the decision when it comes to the growth of the city,” he said.

Asked what would be his priority if he’s hired as chief, Carver said while funding will always be an issue, he would like to try to recruit more people to become firefighters.

“For right now, though, I would just take it one step at a time,” he said.

Carver said he has always wanted to be a firefighter since he was boy. He said he became hooked on firefighting after joining the Inter-County department.

Prior to joining the fire department, Carver drove a truck for the former Tarheel beer distributing company.

Mercer said he became interested in the Elizabeth City fire chief's position because he was interested in advancement. Mercer said he was ready to be a fire chief, but “unfortunately in Rocky Mount, there’s only one chief.”

“So, the opportunity came up (here) to present a vision and bring a vision and hopefully be able to execute that vision,” he said.

Mercer said his vision for the Elizabeth City Fire Department is to continue its improvement while also delivering quality fire service to residents, which ultimately helps improve their quality of life.

Mercer also likes Elizabeth City’s location and believes the city has great potential.

“It's probably the hidden gem of the eastern part of the state,” he said.

Mercer's educational background includes a master's degree in administration from Central Michigan University. He earned the degree through CMU’s satellite campus at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro.

Overman said he wants to be the city's next fire chief because he believes he has the background and experience to perform the job well.

“I've worked for six chiefs and I feel like I have learned a great deal by working with all the 45 personnel in our department, as well as previous chiefs,” he said. “I aspire to be a fire chief and I don't want to be it anywhere else.”

Asked what his priorities would be as fire chief, he said, “figuring out how to take care of our people better.” Overman was referring to studies showing firefighters at increased risk of suffering from cancer.

Overman also said he would emphasize more public education about fires and fire prevention. He said a decade ago, smoking was the big cause of fires. Now with masses of people busy on social media sites, he said cooking fires have become more common.

Overman traces his interest in firefighting back to when he was recruited by then-firefighter Gilbert Baccus. Baccus would go on to become fire chief, serving about five years before retiring in 2004.

Recalling his early days with the department, Overman said he used to work on his off-days as a dispatcher for the forerunner of what is now Pasquotank-Camden Central Communications.

Since 2010, Overman has held an Outside City seat on the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education. He also has served as the board’s chairman.

Although he’s worked in Virginia for a while, Pureza’s family has deep roots in the Elizabeth City community.

His brother David is a local attorney, and David’s wife, Pam, serves on the school board with Overman. His other brother, Rick Pureza, is a former Elizabeth City police sergeant who, after retiring, went on to work for the campus police department at Elizabeth City State University.

Paul Pureza said he wants to become the city's next fire chief because he considers Elizabeth City his home. He also believes he has knowledge and skills from his work in Virginia Beach, where he’s been involved in all facets of the department’s operations, that he can pass on.

“I've been commuting for 32 years and I wouldn't mind getting home,” he said. “I love what I'm doing, but this would be an opportunity for me to come back home, to bring some things that maybe I can share with the firefighters here.”

Pureza said he would bring to the fire chief's job a knowledge of firefighting strategy and tactics, as well as general knowledge of how to run a fire department.

Pureza's educational background includes a four-year degree in safety from the National Labor College in Silver Springs, Maryland.

The fire chief’s position in Elizabeth City came open at the end of last year when Larry Mackey retired. Mackey had been the city’s fire chief since 2009.

City Manager Rich Olson has served as interim fire chief since Mackey’s retirement. He said he hopes to have a new fire chief named within the next few weeks.

“When they may start all depends on who we get,” he said.

Whomever Olson names as fire chief will be subject to a vote by Elizabeth City City Council.

Among those attending Tuesday’s meet-and-greet event was First Ward City Councilor Jeannie Young. She said she came away impressed with all four finalists.

“I think they all have a lot of good qualities they bring to the table. And I'm sure the assessment will show their strengths and they will end up choosing the right one,” she said.

She was referring to the assessment center process Olson is using to help select the next fire chief. Generally, an assessment center uses a team of evaluators to gather information about a managerial applicant's ability to perform the job he or she is seeking.