The Valdosta Daily Times
After more than 18 years as Valdosta fire chief, J.D. Rice announced Wednesday he will retire from the position at year’s end.
He will reportedly seek his teaching certification. Rice was unavailable for comment following the city’s announcement of his retirement Wednesday evening.
In a statement, Rice said, “I feel so blessed and fortunate to have worked for the City of Valdosta and to lead the incredible and talented VFD staff for the past 18 years. I have always had the desire to teach U.S. history, and I look forward to continuing to serve Valdosta through the retirement phase of my life.”
In the coming weeks, the city will conduct a search for the next fire chief.
“J.D. has taken the Valdosta Fire Department to unprecedented heights,” Valdosta Mayor John Gayle said in a statement. “Much of the department’s success can be attributed to his leadership and dedication. On behalf of the City of Valdosta and its citizens, we thank him for his outstanding service and dedication and wish him much happiness in retirement.”
Rice was named fire chief in 1995 at a time when the city underwent a massive change in leadership. Larry Hanson became city manager that year. Frank Simons was hired as police chief that year. Hanson remains city manager. Simons retired last year.
Rice was the city’s first African-American fire chief.
For Rice, retirement means the conclusion of 21 years with the Valdosta Fire Department and 35 years with fire services.
Rice can look back on several successes as fire chief:
— Valdosta’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating improved from Class 3 to Class 2, meaning lower insurance premiums for city homeowners and businesses. “Of the nearly 700 cities and counties in Georgia, only one of them has an ISO rating better than Valdosta and only nine other communities share the same ISO Class 2 rating,” according to the city.
— Three new fire stations, with a fourth underway, were built during Rice’s tenure. Other stations were renovated. Numerous firefighting vehicles were purchased, and played a role in housing an ambulance in Station 6.
— All VFD firefighters are hazardous-materials certified. Under Rice’s supervision, the VFD became the first department in Georgia to accomplish. “The recent chemical fire confirmed the importance of such training and certification and allowed the VFD firefighters to safely perform their duties with precision and expertise,” the city notes.
— Rice hired the city’s first female firefighters and promoted women to positions of rank.
“J.D. has not only been a great fire chief, but he is a great friend and a great team player,” Hanson said in a statement. “He will be sorely missed as he enters this next phase of his life. He has felt a calling to teach, and I commend him for his continued commitment to making a difference in the lives of our young people.”