Anthony Penland named Career Fire Chief of the Year

Barbara Hootman

Anthony Penland, chief of the Swannanoa Fire Department, has been named Career Fire Chief of the Year (2015) by the Western North Carolina Association of Firefighters.

“This is a huge honor, and very humbling,” Penland said.

Penland began his firefighting service career with the Swannanoa Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter in 1990. In 1991 he was elected to the fire department’s board of directors and served as treasurer. He was hired as a full time career firefighter in 1995.

“It was actually my brother that wanted to be a firefighter,” Penland said. “I started hanging out with some of the guys at the fire department, and thought I might like firefighting as a career. I became a volunteer firefighter, and worked myself up through the ranks to become chief in October 2001.

“When Chief Penland joined as a new member we asked what he wanted to accomplish,” Deputy Chief Larry Pierson said. “I’m going to be the fire chief Penland answered. Chief Penland remained focused on his personal goals and goals to improve services for the Valley. There are many aspects that we admire in our chief, but every member can assure you that he is a budget hawk. He not only has tremendous impact locally, but he is having an impact on a state level. His management skills are impressive.”

“Currently most of my work is administrative which I enjoy, just as much as I enjoyed the operations side of the job,” Penland said. “I really like the legislative issues.”

Penland is the current secretary of the WNC Association of Firefighters and a board member since 2009. He is a past president of the Buncombe County Fire Chief’s Association, and currently serves on the legislative and conference committee as a board member of the NC Association of Firefighters which represents all 100 counties, 1,058 fire departments and over 51,000 firefighters.

Penland holds a bachelor’s degree in fire and emergency service administration from Fayetteville State University, and an associate degree in fire protection technology from Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College. He also finished the North Carolina Chief Officers Executive Development Program, and holds multiple certifications, training and experience instructural-wildland firefighting and technical rescue.

Penland considers the relationships that he has built between members of the Swannanoa Fire Department and from within the field of fire service as a whole to be some of the most important highlights of his career. Operationally he remembers fighting wildfires during the massive outbreak in Florida in 1998, and the challenges of ice and wind experienced during the Shafer Dorm fire at Warren Wilson College.

Penland served as the Incident Commander when Beacon Manufacturing went up in flames on September 3, 2003. There were 32 fire departments from surrounding areas and hundreds of fire and emergency personnel involved in the effort to contain ad extinguish the fire over several days.

“Hands down the Beacon Fire is one incident that I would pick to tell about to a large audience,” he said. “The fire involved over 1 million square feet of building, 367 firefighters, 24 engines, 7 ladder trucks and multiple other resources for three straight days of firefighting. I was so proud of the ingenuity of all the resources and how well these agencies worked together. I am proud we ran such a large operation with no one injured. The hazard and potential are there for every call but after all, safety is my number one job.”

Penland and his wife Cindy live in Swannanoa, and have two children Jarrod and Mallory. They also have two older children Zachary and Kaitlin and two granddaughters.

“I still love putting on my uniform and going out to go do the best job on the face of the earth,” he said. “I still go the fire station on Saturday and Sunday to just be with the firefighters. I helped train many of them and they also love what they do. I’ll put the volunteer and career firefighters of the Swannanoa Fire Department up against anyone. I tell my guys all the time that they are the best in the state.

“I never even think about retirement. I still have a lot to give to my community.”