There are over 1,500 fire chiefs in Texas. Red Oak Fire Chief Eric Thompson was recently recognized as chief of the year above all of them.
Thompson has been with the Red Oak Fire Department since 1997. Initially a part-time firefighter, Thompson climbed through the ranks from lieutenant to captain to assistant chief until he was promoted to fill the spot of Fire Chief D.B. Knowell in 2005.
“He took a chance on this young 27-year-old-man,” Thompson recalled. “He took a chance, and I took a chance. Both of us were taking risks. I’m very grateful that he did. I think today, it’s definitely paid off.”
Thompson remarked that he was among the youngest chiefs in the state when he was sworn in as fire chief.
During his time with the Red Oak Fire Department, Thompson has created and implemented the first state-approved Emergency Management plan for the city, as well as making the department become a certified training facility through the Texas Commission on Fire Protection.
He has also been able to secure funding for a second fire station, an Emergency Operations Center and the department Honor Guard. Deputy Chief Ben Blanton stated that Thompson wears many hats as both the city’s fire chief and assistant city manager.
“He’s been able to juggle both of those roles,” Blanton remarked. “He’s been instrumental in progressing the strategic plan of the Red Oak Fire Department.”
Blanton formally nominated Thompson for the Fire Chief of the Year award for the Texas Fire Chiefs Association 2019 Executive Conference for his commitment to the department and the city.
Thompson said he wasn’t expecting the recognition at all. When he attended earlier this month, he was planning to receive the President’s Award by former TFCA president Brent Parker.
That was when he looked out at the audience. To his surprise, he saw his wife and son out in the audience.
“I didn’t even know they were there,” Thompson remarked. “They kept them a secret the whole time. I had no idea they were staying in the room above me.”
That was when Thompson was recognized as Texas Fire Chief of the Year. Thompson said he’s honored by the recognition, but expressed that he doesn’t see it so much as his success as it does the department.
“I like being able to make a positive change,” Thompson stated. “I like to take bad situations and try to make things better for people. My job as the fire chief, I try to set up good careers for the people that work for me. I like to set people up for success. If the folks that work with me are successful, that means I’m doing my job as the chief. It’s a team effort. I enjoy that journey, and I enjoy that process.”
Thompson stated that he’s proud of that moment he got to experience with his family and fellow fire chiefs. But the following week, he was grateful to be back where he belonged – in the Red Oak Fire Station.
“The firehouse, the camaraderie of the guys, the work schedule,” Thompson expressed. “You put all of those things together – how can you turn that down?”