KANNAPOLIS – Kannapolis Fire Chief Ernie Hiers is leaving the fire department in a better position than when he started the position.
Hiers is retiring after nearly 40 years as a firefighter to spend time with family and travel.
His last day will be June 30, the day before Division Chief Rick Barnhardt takes over.
Hiers was recognized by Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg during Friday’s opening ceremony at Fire Station No. 3.
“We’ve seen tremendous change over the course of his career here,” Legg said. “He’s worked to give this department the highest grade. He deserves a round of applause.”
Hiers started in the fire service when he was 21 years old in Temple Terrace, Florida.
He went from engineer to shift captain to assistant fire chief to fire chief and emergency management coordinator.
“When I started as a firefighter we did not have 911 – we had a red phone at the department; someone would be there waiting to answer the phone and then we could respond," Hiers said. "There were no air packs and only three firefighters on duty at one time.”
For the past 12 years, Hiers has overseen the duties within the Kannapolis Fire Department.
He was just the second full-time fire chief for Kannapolis.
Since he began his post, the number of firefighters under him has nearly tripled from 33 to 84.
He played a role in constructing two fire stations, including Fire Station No. 3.
“They aren’t going to miss a beat,” Hiers said. “Chief Barnhardt is great. They won’t know I’m not here.”
Under Hiers' tutelage, the Kannapolis Fire Department has received grants for a Knox Box system for the elderly and disabled and smoke alarms for anyone who requests them. The department now has an outreach program for the hard-of-hearing and other special populations to teach them fire prevention and first aid. The department also initiated a Fire Explorer program to encourage teenagers who are interested in a firefighting career.
“Not a week goes by that another department doesn’t call us and want to know how we do things here – whether it is training and professional development or our community programs,” Hiers said. “I am also proud of the relationships our department has with all of our coworkers in the City and our mutual aid relationships with our neighboring fire departments, such as the city of Concord."
Hiers said the aspect of his job he will miss the most is serving the community.
“I think the biggest thing is the relationships with everyone, not only firefighters here in Kannapolis, but the community,” Hiers said. “I think we’ve worked together, a lot.”
The city of Kannapolis contributed to this report