Rick Opett, the Fire Chief of New Kent County, has been selected as the recipient of the Governor’s Fire Services Award for Virginia Fire Chief of the Year. Opett received his award surrounded by his peers during the awards ceremony at the Virginia Fire-Rescue conference held in Virginia Beach on February 19, 2020.
During his tenure with New Kent County, Chief Opett has made several notable improvements in the services that New Kent Fire-Rescue provides. Since coming on board in 2013, the department has become fully staffed 24 hours/day, decreased response time to calls by approximately 15 minutes, hired an additional 40 full time firefighters, and received more than $3 million in grants to fund equipment and personnel. This past year, New Kent Fire-Rescue also opened its brand-new Station #5 in Talleysville and purchased 5 new fire trucks and 4 ambulances to replace aging apparatus.
Opett, who is a second-generation Fire Chief, moved to New Kent from Loudoun County in 2013 with his wife and two sons. He saw an opportunity to help lead a department that was beginning to experience a similar type of growth he experienced in his early days with Loudoun. “I did a lot of research before making the leap to serve as Fire Chief. What I noticed were great people that wanted to provide the best service possible, but were struggling with the staffing levels and equipment to keep up with the demand. I have always sort of labeled myself as a problem solver and I wanted to help grow this department.”
Chief Opett has served nearly 30 years as a firefighter having joined his hometown volunteer fire company at just 16 years old. He still enjoys moments where he can throw on his gear and work alongside his crew on the scene. “I wouldn’t be where I am today, or even receiving this award, if it weren’t for the men and women of NKFR and our county leadership. They’ve worked just as hard and with me to build this department to provide better customer service for our residents and visitors. I think we can all be proud of how far we’ve come and how we’ve adapted to the rapid growth that our county is experiencing.”
In addition to serving as the Fire Chief, Opett also serves at the Chief Fire Marshal and Emergency Manager for the county. The Chief states he was caught off guard by the award, receiving the nomination and the letters of support for the nomination by several local leaders. “Reading the letters was really special. It allowed me to see what an impact our departmental changes have made on our community and surrounding areas. Deep down, it makes me feel like we’re doing something right”. Opett would like to thank the Executive Committee of the Virginia Fire Services Board and the Governor’s Office for their consideration and selection, and the men and women of NKFR that work hard every day to support his vision.
Governor’s full release: https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2020/february/headline-852084-en.html