Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones, front and center, with HCFR members in attendance at the 2022 Patriot Day Remembrance at Hillsborough County Veterans Memorial Park. (Photo credit: Linda Chion.)

At the Naples Grande Beach Resort in July, Dennis Jones celebrated a grand moment in his momentous career, which since 2015 has involved leading Hillsborough County Fire Rescue and its more than 1,200 career firefighters, paramedics and staff.

Named Florida Career Fire Chief of the Year at the July 18 event, Jones said he was “truly humbled to receive this recognition” and that he was “extremely proud to be a member of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue,” which this year celebrates 50 years of service.

With more than four decades of firefighting experience himself, Jones joined Tampa Fire Rescue in 1978, rising up through the ranks to Tampa Fire Rescue fire chief. He retired in 2010 after five years in that role.

Now, going into his ninth year as Hillsborough fire chief, Jones leads the state’s fourth-largest fire department and the largest on Florida’s west coast. Hillsborough’s 46 stations cover more than 909 square miles and last year answered nearly 140,000 alarms for service. To meet the demands of a growing population, Jones has called for an additional two stations a year for the next 10 years.

Jones is a founding member of Florida Task Force 3, an urban search-and-rescue team of trained firefighters from Hillsborough County, Tampa and St. Petersburg, which assists in disasters statewide and nationally. Jones in 2021 deployed the task force in response to the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, a suburb of Miami.

“He is a man of integrity, fortitude and compassion,” Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise said. “With more than 40 years of experience in fire service, chief Jones has the steadfast respect and admiration of the first responders in his charge, and as a founding member of Florida Task Force 3, there is nobody I would rather have at my side during times of crisis.”

Notable achievements under Jones’ tenure include the addition of 12 advanced life support ambulances, a second heavy rescue unit, a new fireboat, a new rescue boat, two personal watercraft and an aerial truck. The summer youth fire academy, cadet program and fire academy were either instituted or revamped under his direction, and as a result allowed for a more diverse workforce.

As for his heart for service, it was clearly evident in 2022 — during the 21st anniversary remembrance for the September 11, 2011, terrorist attacks — at Hillsborough County Veterans Memorial Park and Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr. Veterans Museum in Tampa.

Struggling at times to hold back tears, Jones recounted the events and lives lost that day, with “millions of people beginning their work day like any other day, with no thought of what was to come.”

“In just two and a half hours that morning, our lives and our world were changed forever,” Jones said.

Through it all, and the disasters and pandemic that were to come, Jones has stood as a constant, being deeply moved and committed in his role now as chief first responder. For his career commitment and achievements, Jones received career fire chief award recognition from the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association, which specializes in promoting and supporting excellence in fire and emergency services management.

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