By EVY GUERRA
USFSP Student Reporter
SOUTH PASADENA – A passing fire truck changed Dave Mixson’s life.
As a teenager, he had planned to be a math teacher and baseball coach. But a couple of tough math courses in community college and a stint as a part-time teacher changed his thinking.
Unsure what to do next, Mixson went to his father for advice. At that moment, a fire truck went by, sirens blaring.
“I asked him, how would one become a fireman?” said Mixson.
Eighteen months later, he was a paramedic – the first step in a 23 1/2-year career as a paramedic and firefighter in Largo.
On July 5, that career carried him to South Pasadena, where he was sworn in as fire chief and director of public safety.
Mixson, 47, says his years in Largo prepared him well.
“I’m most looking forward to the unknown and the challenges it’ll bring,” he said. “I think it’s a great organization that I get the chance to lead.”
As deputy fire chief in Largo (population 84,500), Mixson helped manage a department with six fire stations and 136 firefighters and emergency medical technicians. His salary was $99,455 a year.
In South Pasadena (population 5,100), he will lead a department with one station and 17 people, including himself, and make $96,776.
But Mixson doesn’t view his new position as a step down.
He said he has always admired the South Pasadena department and Dayton Saltsman, who recently retired as chief.
“Working in Pinellas for (almost) 25 years, you run calls with them and you hear about calls that they’re on,” he said. “You hear it’s a well-run organization.”
Mixson also notes that his St. Petersburg home is only 3 miles from the fire house in South Pasadena, a town he knows well.
All three of his children, now 18, 15 and 12, attended the preschool at Pasadena Community Church, where he and his family have been members for 15 years, he said.
“I have a connection with the community,” he said. “We eat there. We bowl at Ten Pin Lanes. It’s a community.”
Over the years, Mixson earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at St. Leo University in Pasco County and a master’s in emergency management through an online program at Eastern Kentucky University.
He holds local or state certifications in special weapons and tactics, the management of both hazardous materials and brush fires, and emergency management coordination.
According to Pinellas court records, he was cited for speeding four times and careless driving once between 1986 and 2007. He also got a citation for a watering violation in 2004.
He acknowledges the driving citations, four of which came more than 20 years ago. The watering violation happened because he misunderstood the municipal ordinance, said Mixson, whose personnel file in Largo is brimming with commendations and positive evaluations.
Mixson was one of 23 applicants for the South Pasadena job, according to Gail Neidinger, the city commissioner who oversees the fire department. A community group narrowed the field to six candidates, she said, then selected Mixson after two interviews.
As he gets started, Mixson said, he plans to do a lot of teaching about fall prevention and hurricane safety in a city where the median age is about 70.
The high-rise Fountains retirement facility at 1255 South Pasadena Blvd. is the No. 1 EMS address in the county because of the number of falls there, according to deputy fire chief Emery Culverhouse.
Because most of the city is in a Level A hurricane evacuation zone, “it is that much more important to prepare for,” said Mixson. “An educated public has a better chance of being a prepared public.”