Paige Day, 46, who is the assistant fire chief in Missouri City, Texas, was appointed by a unanimous 7-0 vote by the City Council on Monday. She will take the position on Jan. 6.
“This is where I plan to stay,” Day said. “This is the capstone of my career. This is what I have always wanted.”
In a 10-year span, Day has earned two associate degrees in Fire Science and Paramedicine, a Bachelor of Science in Public Safety Administration and a Master of Science in Executive Fire Service Leadership.
In 2014, Day expects to complete her doctorate in Organizational Leadership.
Councilman Ron Fennel, who is the Public Safety Chairman, headed a panel that included Police Chief David Lee.
The group waded through 50 applications from people across the country, narrowing down to five candidates, who spent a weekend undergoing a series of rigorous tests and interviews, Fennel said.
Day said the competition was high and any of the applicants could do the job, but she knew the position would be the best fit for her.
Growing up in Chapel Hill, N.C., Day said her family visited Georgia often and she has cousins living in the metro area.
Day’s grandfather, John Rather, went to Georgia Tech and worked for the Bell Aircraft plant while living with his wife, Marian, in Marietta.
“I have a lot of history in Georgia, so it is nice to be coming home,” Day said.
From debutante to firefighter
While going through a divorce with three small children in 1998, Day said she became interested in firefighting.
Day said she wanted a job with excitement, great benefits and enough time for family.
A former debutante and sorority girl, Day said she changed her diet and began a specific workout regimen to be one of only two women in her cadet class at a fire academy in Tucson, Ariz.
In September 2005, Day said a personal tragedy was a turning point in how she approached her career in public safety.
Her husband of four years, Mark, who was a firefighter training captain, was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury.
A friend was following Mark at the time of the accident and was immediately able to perform CPR. Her husband arrived at a hospital within 20 minutes, which Day called “the golden hour.”
“He is a living-day testament of modern medicine,” Day said.
Now, Day said she knows a traumatic event does not end when the fire is put out or when someone gets to the emergency room.
After a year of physical therapy and at-home-care, her husband is now able to walk, talk and “have a good time,” Day said. But there is a new baseline “of who he is going to be,” Day said about her “medically retired” husband.
Day has written a cathartic book, “Fading Scars,” about their “journey of redefining normal,” she said.
Day will head a department of 76 firefighters and two administrative personnel with an annual operating budget of $4.8 million, according to Kay Bolick, the city of Smyrna’s human resources director.
Day said the size of the department is small enough that she can be personally involved in developing the firefighters and get to know their families.
“With a larger department, it is more of a political position … and less chance you have to get your hands dirty,” Day said.
Day, who met with the Smyrna firefighters this week, said she wants to expand the role of the new Fire Medic trucks and look at better staffing peak response hours.
Bolick said Day’s salary will be $100,000 a year, even though her predecessor, Jason Lanyon, made $88,624 per year.
In September, Lanyon resigned voluntarily, but the departure came amid an internal investigation about city policies not being followed.
An open records request submitted by the MDJ found no blemishes on Lanyon’s personnel record.
Lanyon had been employed by the Smyrna Fire Department since 1996 and was promoted to fire chief in 2004.
Deputy Fire Chief Ron Acree has served as acting fire chief and was one of the applicants the council considered.
Acree has been with the city since October 1990 and was promoted to deputy fire chief in 2009.