SANTA ROSA BEACH — Following former Fire Chief Richard Talbert's 11-year run, South Walton Fire District's new fire chief is striving for a seamless transition.
"My goal is to continue the professional standards that the community has enjoyed from the agency," said Fire Chief Ryan Crawford. "We're going to continue to serve the citizens and visitors of Walton County."
Crawford, a former operations chief with SWFD, said it was the first time a new chief has been promoted from within the district's ranks.
"I feel confident, (and) I'm ready," he said. "I think our team here feels the same way."
Originally from Central Florida, Crawford, now 44, served three years in the Navy and has a background in emergency services. He joined the South Walton Fire District in 2001.
When he's off the clock, Crawford said he enjoys hiking, going to the beach and volunteering with his wife Heather at Alaqua Animal Refugee.
To keep up with development and maintain acceptable response times, Crawford said he sees a future need for a third SWFD station somewhere between Inlet Beach and WaterColor.
According to Crawford, the district's workload has increased 41 percent in five years.
"As more and more folks call this beautiful place home, and more folks visit this area, we have to meet the needs of those emergency responses," he said.
Admitting it will be hard to replace Talbert, who retired in February after 41 years of fire service, Crawford is confident in the men and women of SWFD.
"I've had a seat at the table, and certainly (Talbert) has given me the opportunity and provided me with the tools to be successful," he said.