MIDDLETOWN, Pa. --
The siren starts going off.
A 911 dispatcher echoes through the loud speaker giving a location and a brief description of why the department is being dispatched.
The call came from a local factory on the outermost part of the city.
I stand out of the way, watching as the firefighters rush to get their 70 pounds of gear on and get on the road – they have less than 60 seconds. The truck sirens echo throughout the station as they pull out onto the road, and the blinding white and red lights come on signaling to others that an emergency responder vehicle is coming through.
In order to follow closely behind, I hop into the fire chief’s vehicle as he turns his lights and siren on. We are headed to the scene of a fire.
Master Sgt. Scott Little, first sergeant of the 193rd Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron here, has recently acquired a new title: Scott Little, fire chief for the city of Lancaster’s Bureau of Fire.
Little is the first fire chief in this bureau of fire’s history to be hired from outside of the organization since being organized as a career fire department in 1882.
Danene Sorace, mayor of Lancaster, explained why Little surpassed other candidates during the interview process.
“What stood out from his resume and subsequent in-person interviews was Scott's work ethic,” said Sorace. “He had a very well-rounded background, many accomplishments and a lot of diverse leadership experience. It was clear to me that Scott's work ethic is matched by his sense of integrity and commitment to excellence. Plus, he is extremely personable and I could immediately see how his civilian and military experience would lend itself to working with me in the mayor's office, leading and elevating the work of our professional fire bureau and building community.”
Little’s peers also recognize his work ethic.
“Master Sgt. Scott Little has a work ethic unlike anyone I have ever worked with,” said Tech. Sgt. Derrick Dimitris, a firefighter with the 193rd Special Operations Wing here. “It’s hard to describe it really. You almost have to work with him to really understand what I mean. All I can say is that if you need something done, ask him and it’s done. He will work tirelessly on any project given to him until he gives it back completed. He will go above and beyond what is asked of him every time. He is the most dedicated, steadfast and reliable individual I know.”
Little explained that in his new leadership role at the bureau, he is eager to hear new ideas of those within the organization, as well as help them grow and prepare for new positions.
That’s where I'm really driving this organization, by allowing our lieutenants and captains to make more decisions rather than being on-scene and having to run everything through leadership, Little explains.
“[By doing this] we set the stage for the future so that when I leave, there are already top quality, internal candidates that have the leadership skills and abilities to move into those positions,” he explains.
It’s also a morale thing for your people to know that there are goals ahead and that they won’t be prevented from getting all of the training and experience necessary to fill that new role in the future, Little added.
In addition, he is working on pushing new policies and programs, but is sure to clearly communicate these to members of the bureau first.
“To be able to explain to someone why you’re changing direction and assisting them in understanding it, goes a long way,” said Little. “As opposed to just throwing a new policy out there and telling them to follow this new rule ‘because I said so’.”
On Aug. 21, Little met with Sorace to discuss the possible addition and remodeling of firehouses in Lancaster as well as improving their fire rescue service delivery, which resulted in Sorace approving a budget of up to 10 million dollars for this specific project.
Little added that he has plans for a number of outreach initiatives, including a citizens’ fire academy, a community engagement program and a youth mentorship program for middle school and high school students.
He also stated that he asks for feedback on these new policies and programs from those who have been with the bureau a long time, as well as retirees.
“Scott is demonstrating leadership and calling forth the leadership of others, regardless of position,” said Sorace. “The changes he is implementing are overdue and it is pretty amazing what he has accomplished in a few short months.”
Little has an extensive career background, military and civilian, that was considered before being appointed to this new position.
He started his civilian career as a volunteer firefighter at the age of 14 in Spring Grove. After getting a few years of experience in, he was hired as a career firefighter by a municipality fire department in York County where he worked for nine years. In 2013, he transitioned to the federal government as a civilian firefighter at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Little then relocated to the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle where he was promoted to station captain. He was then offered the assistant chief role back in Fort Detrick, where he served in that position for three years upon being offered the fire chief position in Lancaster.
Little’s military firefighting career started in 2001 when he enlisted into the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves in Willow Grove, where served 8 years working crash fire rescue. After his contract was up in 2008, he enlisted into the 193rd SOW as a firefighter the very next day.
Little explained that one of the main factors that drew him to the Pennsylvania Air National Guard was how they treat their people.
“I loved how different the Air Guard is,” said Little. “They get the mission done while taking care of their people and making their people a priority.”
While moving up in rank during his time here, Little acquired experience as a leader and was recently looking to take his military career to the next step.
“You get to a certain point in your career when you need to come out of your comfort zone,” said Little.
I talked to a lot of deploying Airmen and I saw how first sergeants operated, and I knew that was the route I wanted to go, I knew I wanted to take care of people, Little confessed.
Little was selected as the first sergeant of the 193rd SOLRS in Sept. 2017, which has an estimated 130 Airmen that he is now responsible for taking care of and working with.
Little gave credit to everything he had learned throughout the boarding and promotion processes in the military as to why he was comfortable and successful throughout this interview process.
“The interview process was very involved,” explained Sorace. “A team of individuals representing professional firefighting, the local 319 union, clergy, emergency services, city council, and community members conducted the initial review. They ultimately selected two finalist which were interviewed by the senior leadership team and I.”
“I went into interviews with eight people on a board,” Little stated. “Having that past experience with board interviews on the military side just transitioned so easily that I was able to go in with a sense of confidence and not be nervous because of our military training and background.”
Friends and co-workers of Little commented on what it has been like watching him throughout his career.
“It has been a blessing watching Scotty grow in both his military and civilian careers,” said Greg Chandler, a civilian firefighter with the 193rd SOW. “He’s dedicated to the fire service and it’s helped him along the way become the great leader that he is today. He loves his job, he loves firefighting and it’s in his blood.”
“Master Sgt. Little and I have worked together for over 16 years in our military careers and it has truly been an incredible honor to watch my friend achieve what he has achieved and become the person that he is today,” said Dimitris. “We started in the Marines together, just kids, and now look at him! A first sergeant and Lancaster City’s Fire Chief! Watching Little advance over the years has been inspiring to me.”
Little admitted that he doesn’t know anything other than firefighting when it comes to his career.
“It’s always been about being a public servant,” said Little. “Wearing either the military uniform for the Commonwealth or the firefighter uniform for the community.”