Chapel Hill Fire Chief Harris to Retire This Summer

Fire Chief Vencelin Harris plans to retire as of July 1, 2023, after nearly 30 years with CHFD. Photo courtesy of Town of Chapel Hill.


Terry E. Cohen

Per a statement released by the Town of Chapel Hill this morning, Fire Chief Vencelin Harris has announced his plans to retire as July 1, 2023, after nearly 30 years with the Town’s fire department. Harris took the department’s top role in February 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic rolled in, after serving as the Town’s emergency management coordinator for the previous two years.

Harris announced his plans, saying he had mixed emotions, but pointed to discussions with his family as laying the foundation for his decision.

“After many conversations with my family last spring, we decided that it is time for us to start the next journey in our lives over the summer of 2023 and start to accomplish many of our family goals,” Harris said as quoted in the official release, explaining that family plans had been put on hold when he took his two most recent leadership positions with the Town.

Starting with the Chapel Hill Fire Department in 1994, Harris worked his way up the ranks from firefighter to fire captain and then battalion chief. Interim Town Manager Chris Blue, who took his current position immediately after retiring as the Town’s police chief, as 2022 crossed into 2023, responded with accolades about Harris’ knowledge and service, per the release.

“It will be hard to replace the institutional knowledge that Chief Harris will take with him,” said Interim Town Manager Chris Blue. “We all appreciate his dedicated service to our community for nearly three decades and I look forward to celebrating his numerous achievements in the coming months.”

The institutional knowledge of which Blue spoke includes preparing for and responding to emergencies beyond fires, including floods and other natural disasters that would require FEMA coordination, as well as human emergencies possible during activities such as demonstrations.

A native of Durham, Harris received an associate’s degree from Durham Technical Community College in 2014. A search for a new fire chief will begin immediately.

Terry E. Cohen is the editor of The Local Reporter. She also writes articles for a global media firm on topics related to Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) in business and industry.

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