It is with great sadness, that the Virginia Beach Fire Department announces the passing of retired Fire Chief Harry E. Diezel.
Chief Diezel took the helm of the Virginia Beach Fire Department on May 1, 1974, after the department's very first chief, E.B. Bayne, retired.
When Diezel assumed the chief's position, the VBFD employed just 120 career firefighters; and today, that number has grown to more than 500.
A lot has changed in the last four-and-a-half decades and Chief Diezel's bold and innovative leadership did much to shape the department into the all-hazards response agency that it is today. The improvements, made under his leadership, benefitted not only the fire department, but also the citizens of Virginia Beach, as well.
Just a few short months after he was sworn in as fire chief, he challenged state building codes, in order to improve fire prevention measures in high-rise and multi-dwelling structures along the oceanfront. He did this, despite the controversy it created at the time, saying, "I will be a dedicated public servant, but I won't be a public doormat for anyone."
Chief Diezel is responsible for securing funding for the development of the Urban Search and Rescue Team, now known as, Virginia Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team, based out of Virginia Beach. That FEMA USAR team, as well as, other FEMA teams from across the country, train at the Virginia Beach Fire Training Center, which is also a part of his legacy.
Chief Diezel secured the initial funding needed to build the training center and in May 2018, the facility was renamed the Harry E. Diezel Training Center, not only to honor Chief Diezel, but also to inspire future generations of fire chiefs and firefighters, to be innovative in their approach to the job; and always, put public service before themselves.
The late Virginia Beach fire chief, Harry Diezel.
Chief Diezel retired from the fire department in September 1997, but his commitment to public service did not end there.
In 2002 he was unanimously appointed to the Virginia Beach City Council to represent the Kempsville District and served on council for 10 years. In fact, he devoted almost his entire life to public service.
He entered the fire service as a volunteer member of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department when he was just 18-years old. His volunteer service was punctuated with the completion of military duty and included assignments to the 82nd Airborne and 1st Calvary Divisions of the U.S. Army, respectively.
Chief Diezel is survived by his wife, Ginny, and their son, Matthew.
Born on January 10, 1940, he died just one day before his 79th birthday. The cause of death was not released.
In a message to the department, the current Virginia Beach fire chief, David Hutcheson, said, "Those of us who were fortunate enough to have had him as our chief have lost a mentor and father figure."
Information and photo courtesy of the city of Virginia Beach.