He’s led the emergency response for Harnett County through three major hurricanes and numerous thunderstorms and now it’s time to turn the page for Jimmy Riddle.
For over three decades he has served Harnett County in one capacity or another, starting out as a fire marshal and working his way to the top of the ladder.
“It’s time,” he said. “You get to a point where you get tired. There have been a lot of good things.”
With all of the trials and tribulations related to being the emergency services director, a post he ascended to in 2016, you can plainly see the pride he carries when he discusses Harnett County.
Mr. Riddle says flat out the county has plenty to take pride from, whether it’s the fire departments, the ambulance services or something else, he believes the pride should be worn.
“Emergency services in Harnett County as a whole has a lot to be proud of,” he said. “Our departments out there, there’s not a time they won’t step up to the plate and do whatever you ask them to do. We’re very fortunate in this county and a lot of counties, they can’t say that.”
As Mr. Riddle sat at his desk reflecting on his career, the conversation always seems to go back to one thing — the team around him. He credits all of the success for the people who are on the fire trucks, in the ambulances and out responding to the needs of the public.
“I’ll put our departments and our staff in here, up with anybody,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate to build programs. And we’ve always had the support to build those programs.”
Mr. Riddle notes how during the recessions there was a dedicated core of county employees who decided what they were doing was more important than the money larger departments could offer.
“There’s a lot of us that stayed home,” he said. “Some of the reasons it made it enticing to stay home is because sometimes it’s not about the money. Sometimes it’s about putting a good product out there and looking after the citizens.”
He credits the man who he replaced, Gary Pope, as a role model for building an EMS system. Mr. Riddle says with the sincerity and seriousness Mr. Pope maintained, it wasn’t hard to see how important such an attitude would be as the director.
“He always took this very serious trying to build a program and getting our name out there,” Mr. Riddle said. “Because of that he laid a lot of the foundation out and what I’ve done is try and build on that, and hopefully, whomever comes in here I hope they’ll do the same thing.”
If Mr. Riddle will be remembered for anything when he steps down on Jan. 1 is the road map he’s helped craft with the emergency services study that has been ongoing for quite some time.
He wants to see the county take the study and use it to guide them into the next decade and beyond. He calls it an important next step with the expansion and growth in the county both expected and ongoing.
“Based off that study, which should be finished sometime around February, there will be a strategic plan wrote,” he said. “I hope that’s going to be the road map for the county in emergency services.”
Mr. Riddle believes one of the most important things to be accomplished during his time at the helm comes in seeing every fire department in Harnett County earning a good ISO rating, the ISO is what insurance companies use to determine policy rates. The better the ISO rating, the less home and business owners will pay in premiums.
“We wanted to see if we could get everyone an insurance break,” he said. “When we first started all this, there were gaps where people were paying the tax, but they didn’t have anything and they really weren’t getting the insurance break.”
His pride extends to not only seeing the ISO ratings, it grows from also seeing the departments he works with get better, more efficient and better able to serve the residents and businesses in their individual districts.
Mr. Riddle, who is a certified emergency medical technician, takes as much pride in the improvements he’s overseen with the EMS side. Under his vision, the services have grown with the population and expanded to make sure every emergency call is answered in the fastest and most efficient manner.
While there may not be an ambulance at the scene immediately, there will be a trained first responder on the scene as quickly as possible. Something he says comes from the foundations previously in place.
“We’ve taken the actual plan or the pattern that was there and working with the division chief, we’ve enhanced that,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of more units on the road. We were weak in some areas and we’ve backfilled those areas.”
As for the challenges arisen from those storms and other disasters, he’s full of pride and a feeling of success in those areas as well. Mr. Riddle has used the knowledge he earned going through the ranks as a firefighter in and near Fayetteville and later in Harnett County, first as a fire marshal for over a decade, then as deputy director, to benefit the citizens of the county.
Most importantly, he still believes in giving credit where credit is due and in this case it’s those people around him who have stood with him and helped him turn the vision and education he’s collected through the years, into the final product.
“No one person is successful on their own it’s the people around them,” he said. “And what I say as a whole, you either sink or swim, but that’s what makes it. Attitudes, camaraderie and networking. You’re either successful or not because of relationships.”