Retired Fire Chief Harry Diezel honored, building renamed
Retired Virginia Beach Fire Chief Harry Diezel was recently honored during a recent Virginia Beach City Council meeting where it was announced that the city's fire training center would be named for him. The following are remarks made by Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms drawn from a proclamation read in his honor and presented to him:
Harry Diezel spent virtually his entire life serving both his community and his country. He first entered the fire service in 1958 as a volunteer member of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Service and in 1966 he became a career firefighter with that county. His volunteer service was punctuated with the completion of military duty and included assignments to the 82nd Airborne and 1st Calvary Divisions.
Chief Diezel assumed the position of fire chief in Virginia Beach on May 1, 1974 replacing the department’s first Chief, E.B. Bayne, after his retirement in June of that same year.
When Chief Diezel took the helm of the Virginia Beach Fire Department there were just 120 career firefighters and today that number has grown to almost 500. Much has changed since 1974, but Chief Diezel’s leadership did much to shape this department into what it is today. The improvements he worked for not only benefited the fire department, the citizens benefited from his leadership, as well.
Just a few short months after he was sworn in as fire chief, he challenged state building codes to improve fire prevention measures in high rise and multi-dwelling structures along the oceanfront. He did this despite the controversy it created at that time saying, “I will be a dedicated public servant but I won’t be a public doormat for anyone”
Chief Diezel laid the ground work for neighboring cities in Southside Hampton Roads to respond to fires across city lines. This effort led to what has today evolved into Automatic Aid that allows dispatchers to reach across city lines so that the closest fire company responds to an emergency.
Chief Diezel allowed the development and then the funding of the Urban Search and Rescue Team, outside the normal budget process, which led to the development of the FEMA team, Virginia Task Force 2. Members of that team, as well as, other FEMA teams from across the country train here, at this facility that will now bear his name.
The Fire Training Center itself is part of Chief Diezel’s legacy.
He secured the initial funding needed to build the Fire Training Center in 1975. After successfully getting this project into the Capital Improvement Plan in 1975, the next two years allowed for the design and bidding process to get underway.
Construction of the Fire Training Center began in 1978 and in in 1979 the 10,000-square-foot facility was complete with administration offices, a 120-seat auditorium and training classrooms, in addition to a full service library and burn building. In February of that same year, the facility opened and 24 VBFD recruit firefighters were first to be trained in the state of the art regional fire training center.
He initiated a voluntary physical fitness program for Virginia Beach firefighters that is the basis for the department’s current emphasis on health and fitness, for both veteran firefighters and recruits.
He was proactive in seeking to recruit more women into the fire department.
Chief Diezel retired in September of 1997, but his commitment to public service did not end there. In 2002 he was unanimously appointed to City Council to represent the Kempsville District of Virginia Beach.
He served on city council for 10 years. He also served on the City Manager’s Management Leadership Team where he functioned as an ombudsman for all public safety divisions within the city.
Renaming the Virginia Beach Fire Training Center to "The Harry E. Diezel Virginia Beach Fire Training Center" will inspire future generations of both Fire Chiefs and Firefighters to be innovative in their approach to the job and always put public service before themselves.
Mayor Will Sessoms, on right, congratulates Chief Harry Diezel.
On hand for Chief Harry Diezel's award ceremony, former Virginia Beach fire chief and current deputy city manager Steve Cover, on left, and current Virginia Beach Fire Chief Dave Hutcheson.