The Swansboro Fire Department has a new chief in Dave Degnan.
The 55-year-old took over for retired chief Mark Tessing on Saturdary, July 31, after spending time with the department in a part-time fashion since 2019. The Chicago native is familiar with the job after serving as the fire chief for the city of Sandusky, Ohio, between 2014 and 2017.
Degnan retired in 2017 and made the move to Onslow County to be closer to his daughter, Whitney, who lives in Jacksonville.
“We had planned on moving down here to be close to my daughter and we wanted to do it before we got much older,” Degnan said. “So, after I turned 50, we retired and made the move. We started coming down to Emerald Isle in 2009, and I really liked it here so it was an easy move.”
Degnan is a nine-year U.S. Air Force veteran with a family history of law enforcement. He’ll be the first to tell you, though, that he didn’t get the “police gene.”
“There was always an expectation that I would go into law enforcement,” he said, “but since being a young kid, I always wanted to be the person that helped people when they were injured. I like helping people at their worst. I have the ability to treat people without judgment. I like fighting fires, too, and being in that front row position to help.”
After spending 20 years with the department in Sandusky and retiring as chief, Degnan got back on the truck where he’s most comfortable, serving at the Western Carteret Fire & EMS Department and the Swansboro Fire Department. Stepping out of that in-the-field role was an adjustment for him in 2014, and it still is for Degnan.
“The first time you become a fire chief, you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into,” he said. “You’re not fighting fires or getting out in the field much. Instead, you’re kind of contained to an administrative role. That’s a tough adjustment at first. I’m getting there. I’m learning that it’s OK if I don’t get up at 3 a.m. for those early shifts.”
Stepping in for Tessing, Degnan inherits a department with five full-time firefighters, 18 part-time personnel and 15 volunteers. He is currently working on hiring a sixth full-time firefighter.
“Mark did a great job with the department,” Degnan said. “He made a great team and kept the vehicles in great shape. My job is to come in and take it the next step.”
Degnan has a few priorities in place for his first year in the position, most notably formal, standardized training for all three of his department’s shifts and a blanket system of communication and on-the-scene standard operating guidelines to be shared with other Onslow County departments.
“The goal is that whenever we respond to a fire, we all communicate and work in the same way,” he said. “Not that they already don’t, but added consistency and accountability can only make things better. There’s a lot of great captains in this area, and I’m happy to be working with them.”
Training will be a strong focus for Degnan as he aims to instill practical application of the incident command system for newly trained personnel.
“There’s a tendency across the country to teach the incident command system in the academies without proper application,” he said. “It’s a 30,000-foot view of the situation, and it doesn’t always prepare for actual responses. Training can only help. Let’s be very good at what we do all the time.”
With a background interest as a paramedic, Degnan wants to emphasize traffic accident responses for his personnel, considering fires only make up a part of the department’s responses.
“People like to drive fast on the Highway 24 thoroughfare,” he said. “I’ve seen more bad accidents down here than I did in 20 years in Sandusky.”
He added, “I want to make sure that if there are EMS calls within the town of Swansboro, that it’s done so without an increase in taxes or cost to the citizens.”
Degnan lives in Jacksonville with his wife, Rene. He has two daughters, Whitney and Katie.
Email Zack Nally at firstname.lastname@example.org.