Last Updated: Dec. 21, 4:42 p.m.
Percy Sayles, a former Broward County Paramedic of the Year who retired as Fire Chief of the Tamarac Fire Department on Nov. 19, after 26 years of service there and four as chief, was named Flagler County Fire Rescue’s deputy fire chief two weeks ago. The county announced the appointment today–the most consequential appointment to date by Fire Chief Mike Tucker, who has himself been on the job only since summer. Sayles will start at $102,627 a year.
Both Tucker’s appointment and, in turn, that of Sayles, reflects a change in direction for a department that for many years drew its leadership from within. It is also no small thing that Sayles, with one brief exception, will be the highest appointment of a Black firefighter-paramedic to a leadership position in past or present fire departments in the county–in a profession where the proportion of Blacks is not high (it is lower than in police departments and significantly lower than in the military).
Tucker says he “absolutely” places a premium on diversity, but stresses that “wasn’t a selection criteria, it was just that Chief Sayles is as good as he is.” Tucker sees diversity in broader terms. “Obviously we’re trying to make sure the fire service is reflective of the community that we serve,” he said, but diversity goes beyond ethnicity to cultural background, to “the way we view the world,” which means pulling together an eclectic group. “We’ve always got a long way to go and probably will never get there,” the chief said, but it’s the constant striving that makes the difference.
Sayles was one of some 20 candidates. They were narrowed down to four, who were then interviewed by two panels: one made up of differently-ranked members of Flagler County Fire Rescue, and one made up of the Palm Coast and Flagler Beach fire chiefs. Tucker himself, because of his long career with the Florida State Fire College, has known Sayles for three decades, had seen his work in Tamarac and was familiar with its quality and Sayles’s integrity. Tucker said he is a good fit with “the culture that we’re trying to develop within the department right now,” which he described as “compassionate, caring and strategic in what we do, and how we do it. We’re trying to build an org that is proactive and not reactive.”
The analogy Tucker uses is an organization that stops playing checkers and starts playing chess, which emphasizes the strategic, the forward-looking. In local terms, it means developing performance measures, making sure stations are located in the proper locations, staff matches need and training is appropriate.
Sayles, 52, was the 2020 Florida Fire Chief Association’s Executive Fire Officer of the Year, has received half a dozen leadership and teamwork awards from the City of Tamarak, and was even Broward College’s Student of the year–twice, in 1994 and 2001. A Florida native, he was recently appointed Southeast Regional Director of the Florida Firefighters Chief Association. He also has deep experience in negotiating contracts with unions.
A release issued by the county this afternoon states he has been on the job for about two weeks, suggesting that he was barely off the job between his retirement in Broward County and his start date in Flagler. One thing stands out to him, the release goes on. Namely, Flagler County has a lot of “informal leaders” within the ranks who aren’t afraid to jump in and figure out solutions. This can-do attitude will help him meet one of his top goals, which is to ensure that all Fire Rescue staff members have ample opportunity to develop to their full potential.
“No one around here needs a title,” said Sayles. “It’s great. Everyone just does what needs to be done. I worked my way up through the ranks, and there are many here who are hungry for leadership and professional development.”
Sayles has a bachelor’s degree in Nursing and a master’s degree in Public Administration in addition to his many fire credentials. He is accredited as a Certified Chief Fire Officer by the Center for Public Safety Excellence/Commission on Professional Credentialing. During his four-year stint as fire chief in Tamarac–a city of 72,000, making it, by population, significantly larger than the jurisdiction he is joining–he served as interim city manager for two months.
Sayles started as a firefighter-EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) in 1995, became a rescue supervisor in 2000, made the rank of lieutenant in 2001, became a battalion chief in 2005, interim operations chief in 2009, assistant chief of operations in 2010, deputy fire chief in 2017, and was then quickly promoted to chief.
“While he is departing to embark on the next chapter in his life,” a tribute video produced by the Tamarac Fire Department states, “the entire organization is grateful for his many years of dedicated and loyal service. You are truly a one in a million, chief. Your dedication, hard work, work ethic, and commitment to doing the best work has been inspiring. Your impressions and memory will remain for ever with Tamarac Fire Rescue.”
Sayles was among those who led the Tamarac Fire Department to earn its ISO (Insurance Services Office) Class 1 certification, the highest rating attainable, and one awarded to only 178 fire department out of 48,632 rated agencies throughout the nation.
Sayles has spent his brief time Flagler County visiting its various fire stations to meet as many Fire Rescue staff members as quickly as possible, and beginning an analysis of the systems, policies, and procedures in place. “You have to find the gaps, so you can fill them,” he said. “I look for efficiencies in system performance.”
Sayles is keen on Flagler County Fire Rescue meeting performance measures that meet the community’s expectations.
“I plan to meet with residents and to use a survey format to get input,” he said. “Knowing what the expectations are helps you to make the best decisions.”
“His experience is stellar,” said Fire Rescue Chief Mike Tucker. “He did a lot within the Tamarac Fire Rescue that added quality to the department for the good of the staff and the residents. I am thrilled that he chose to come to Flagler County.”
Sayles is originally from Eustis. He has been married to his wife, Susan, for 28 years, and they have four adult sons.