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.
Just the Facts says
Your information is incorrect. The County had a black fire chief once and he didnt last here long. If I remember right his name was also Tucker. Sorry to burst your milestone bubble.
Roy Longo says
His name was Powell. He only lasted maybe six months . Powell was one of the short term chiefs in between Cooper and Petito. He undermined everyone and everything they did. Was glad to see him go.
Nobody in the Department in line of secession, failure of the previous administration . It’s wrong for public 3mployees to chase multiple pensions by jumping from one jurisdiction to another. One public funded pension is enough considering most people don’t even get one. Where did he come from, who pushed him and was the position even advertised. Something doesn’t smell right and that usually means something is rotten.
Charlie Ericksen Jr says
I’m not challenging the listed skills and accomplishments of the selection, but I wonder how this sits with the Flagler County Fire Department’s Union. Should there not be a ” job posting” . to at least recognize talented insiders ..????..This seems like , a County Commissioner might have gotten involved, since he’s now King of the Commission, and does alot of behind the scenes activities ….and talking..
We updated the story after Tuesday’s interview with Chief Tucker to reflect that the position was advertised and drew more than 20 candidates.
Flagler Live: “reflects a change in direction for a department that for many years drew its leadership from within”
Fact, both Don Petito and Joe King came from other fire department outside Flagler County . Lets get the story straight.
Sayles seems like an impressive man that could do the department well. Just one question, where did he buy his rose colored glasses?
Congratulations Chief. Have a wonderful holiday. Look forward to addressing the fire safety issues in single family dwellings being used as vacation rentals. These dwellings are transient public lodging establishments and should be treated just like single family dwellings that are licensed as bed and breakfast dwellings.
Soupy Sayles says
I dont know nothin about all that. Its greek to me…Im just here to get a second pension.
Concerned taxpayer says
Short term vacation rentals do have a fire safety inspection annually
Fire Departments are a necessary infrastructure. It really doesn’t matter the spin on quality, blah, blah, blah. Taxes pay for it and we certainly don’t want the forest fires that are wildfire levels to get the benefits of having a fire department. Other things the Fire Department does. They are paramedics for crashes that involve injuries & fires. They had to put out one at the Flagler Beach Christmas parade. And this was a diversity hire, it checks off the boxes really. A figurehead of leadership in it’s own way of spending more taxpayer money. Is the salary a bargain ? Was it going to be a cost the county has budgeted & will incur regardless ? The Fire Department(s), prior articles were the costs of new fire engine trucks that seemed to be a strain on what growth the area is going thru. Government chasing the next tax dollar for nothing better or more than we already had. Internal candidates passed over. Like another said, this is a guy that left Tamarac, FL as retired, so he retires in Flagler on a pension from elsewhere & now an additional $ 102K salary & benefits out of Flagler County pockets. There has to be some spreading of the wealth, but this hire checks diversity boxes too. As usual, it is what it is. And morale won’t improve because of it. There’s probably a woman, a Hispanic or even an LGBTQ that wanted the job ? But they had also had to pick the diversity hire that makes the most visible diversity impact. There are internal candidates that would have liked the promotion & pay increase. To an extent that was a slap in the face for the level of fire protection that has been good enough for Flagler county to this point. And who in their right mind is going to spin this as a morale booster ?
The only interest I have in this is what it’s going to cost me additionally as a tax payer. I had no problem with the Fire Department level of service before, but let’s face it, growing by a fire chief ? How many firefighters can we hire instead for that, who will actually be on the ground fighting a real fire ? We seem to chase away those capable of doing the administrative. That or they retire facing being forced out. And then the next Fire Chief up becomes this instead of a natural progression of promotion ? What has changed in the decades of fire fighting that Tamarac has such a superior ire department than anywhere else on the planet ? I lived near enough to Tamarac, FL. It’s really nothing special there, perhaps why this new hire chose to leave there. Tamarac is NW Ft Lauderdale area really. Broward County what a gridlock traffic mess of a dump. Retiring, I really don’t blame the guy for getting out of Tamarac, time served I guess.
Roy Longo says
Jimbo, I’m not really sure what your trying to convey, but I doubt Sayles was an affirmative action hire. His qualification speaks for itself. As far as his salary, you want quality, you pay for quality.
CONGRATULATIONS Mr. Sayles!
I believe after all the reviews..
best decision was made…
Welcome to you and your family.
Hope you will do a good job. Whatever happens please do what you are paid to do. No shoddy stuff, no favorites. Please keep your hands clean and stand for and do what is right. May Gid bless you and your family. I will say things are changing in this country. A good salary, retired from another location, sound like a nice income, other people get it why not us!
If our tax dollars csn go to a person doing a good job that is great. The Palm Coast Gov. waste money. I would be glad to pay my tax dollars to a person of color if they will do what they are hired to do. This guy has a good resume in my opinion, why not pay him well. Many and I mean Whites in Gov. just wasted tax dollars for their greed and did very little to nothing for the people. We will see whst happens. but I am glad he is a person of color. Hiw long will he stay, we don’t know, if the white elite push him out at least he has a retirement he and his family can live on.
After reading many of your comments, I am left wondering why you would want to live around such a large number of whites because of all the animosity you hold for them. Why dont you move to a predominantly black area and enjoy the “culture” that experience has to offer? If you actually work, then your employer needs to place you in diversity training right after the holidays. All that hate you hold inside is going to come back to burn you one day.
Marina @ NMPL says
To tell the truth, I think that it is really important to appoint a person who can benefit a company to a huge extent and make his own special contribution to it. It is truly cool that such a worthy candidate was chosen and that he has such a necessary set of skills. I’m certain that it is truly a wonderful decision and I hope that Percy Sayles will be able to deal with significant tasks no worse than his predecessor because it seems to me that he has great potential. I think that the most important thing in any job is to be honest and approach the performance of your work with seriousness, pouring your soul into this. It is truly respectful that Percy Sayles has such purposes regarding Flagler County Fire Rescue and I really hope he will be able to implement all his intentions into a reality.
Note link included with this posting (Marina @ … is “nearmepayday.loan” (from the status bar of my browser, I don’t use links without knowing what they actually point to).
Hope this helps.
Pogo, thank you for alerting us to this: the comment looked like a very clever way to make it seem like a comment when it appears to be just an excuse to drop a link, which has been deleted.