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Meet Seminole Tribe Fire Rescue’s No. 1 and No. 2

HOLLYWOOD — The Seminole Tribe recently named two new leaders to head its Fire Rescue department. Michael C. Mackey’s first day on the job as fire chief was Sept. 14, while William Huff began his term as deputy chief Sept. 28. The two have been in the fire service in South Florida for many years.

There were big shoes to fill in the department after Donald DiPetrillo died April 30 of Covid-19 at age 70. He had been the chief since 2008 and had worked for fire service in Broward County for almost five decades.

Mackey and Huff report to William Latchford, the executive director of public safety, which includes fire rescue, police and emergency services.

Mackey and Huff oversee four fire stations, one each in Hollywood, Big Cypress, Brighton and Immokalee with 129 personnel – although the number fluctuates as the department fills vacancies.

‘Quite a journey’

Mackey has been in the fire service for 33 years starting at the ripe age 20. Most of it has been in Palm Beach County. Now 52, he has held almost all the positions and ranks someone in the fire service can acquire – starting out as a firefighter-EMT (emergency medical technician).

“Back then I was the one that did all the (tracheal) intubations, ran all the high index type calls,” Mackey said.

He’d advance to battalion chief and division chief of operations over 49 fire stations. He later served as the top administrator in Palm Beach County, overseeing contracts, service agreements, the supply chain, dispatch, fleet issues and maintenance.

“It’s been quite a journey,” he said.

Michael C. Mackey is the newly installed fire chief for Seminole Tribe Fire Rescue. (Courtesy photo)

Mackey retired and then took on a year and a half stint as the fire chief for the city of Lansing, Michigan.

The plan was for his family to follow him there – one of his three daughters had already been accepted to Michigan State University and the house was sold.

“Things derailed with Covid,” Mackey said. “You couldn’t be on the campus. It just sort of derailed us in moving and everything got more and more chaotic.”

The family would never end up moving and he returned to Florida.

Mackey grew up in Miami-Dade County and has lived in Hollywood and Pembroke Pines. In February he was searching for two condos – one for he and his wife of 28 years and one for his daughters.

A friend had mentioned the Seminole Tribe’s opening and he quickly applied for it.

“It was like a dream come true. Everything lined up, it was perfect,” he said.

Since late December one of the main focuses for Mackey and Huff has been Covid-19 vaccine distribution for the tribe. Fire rescue personnel administer the shots in coordination with Health and Human Services.

“What you see is the smallest portion of what’s going on behind the scenes,” Mackey said. “It’s a heavy lift. Our folks are working all hours, calling after we give the shots to see how they’re feeling, the whole scheduling, moving the vials, the paperwork. I’m bragging on our folks. We’ve done a tremendous job.”

Normally, the department would be busy with any number of events on the reservations – rodeos, celebrations and cultural gatherings – not to mention the concerts and special events that normally take place at Hard Rock Hollywood.

‘A good team’

Huff grew up in Miramar and worked in the city’s fire department for 30 years, also recently retiring. The 55 year old has lived in Pembroke Pines since 1985.

“I’ve learned so much about the Seminole Tribe, the culture and the people,” Huff said of his still brief stint as deputy chief. “I grew up here and knew about the tribe but not as much about the traditions and customs. My son and I are history buffs, so it’s been a good education for me to learn so much.”

Huff said he and Mackey are a lot alike.

William Huff is the new deputy chief. (Photo Damon Scott)

“We have very similar philosophies, theories and thought processes,” he said. “It makes for a good team.”

Huff is also married with three children – two sons and a daughter, along with five grandkids. He’s also held many positions in the fire service and has chaired a lot of committees for the Fire Chiefs Association of Broward County.

Huff said he’s been close with previous Seminole Fire Rescue chiefs, including DiPetrillo.

“I knew Donald for decades and his brother David and worked closely with those guys throughout the years,” Huff said. “It was just devastating – Chief DiPetrillo did so much for us here in Broward County. It was a huge loss.”

Huff also praised the tribe’s vaccine campaign and said it is one of the most important initiatives he’s been a part of in his career.

“It’s not as dramatic as saving someone from a fire or pulling someone from a car, but these guys are saving lives out here with every shot that they give,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work, long days, long nights, weekends, holidays – but we’re getting there.”

Whereas the duo would normally be meeting tribal leaders, elders and members at events, most of the greetings thus far have been through the vaccine process.

“All the tribal members I’ve met have been so welcoming and appreciative and say hi and give you a big smile and a wave,” Huff said.

Mackey and Huff said beyond the vaccine program, they still find time to be involved in the hiring process and in setting goals for the department.

“We’re coming in with kind of a blank slate to get things up and running where we’d like to see them and where the tribe wants the department to go,” Huff said.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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