New chief has been in fire service for 29 years

Mike Benjamin inherited a changing department when he took the oath of service as Hannibal's new fire chief earlier this month.

In the coming weeks, following upcoming testing and promotions, the department will feature several other people with new duties as well.

"We've had a pretty big turnover. It's a transitional period for us, but it's pretty exciting," Benjamin said. "We have some great people here in the department, all the way down to the youngest guy. That makes it go a little bit smoother."

One position already filled is that of deputy chief, a role Benjamin held for nine years. Ryan Neisen was promoted from captain into the department's No. 2 position.

"He's going to make my job a little bit easier and make me a stronger chief," Benjamin said.

City Manager Jeff LaGarce and former fire chief Sean Hampton offered their support for Benjamin.

"Mike is extremely knowledgeable, dependable and customer-service oriented," LaGarce said. "He is well respected by employees and peers, and will be an excellent leader for the department."

"I'm really excited for Mike to get the opportunity to serve as Hannibal's fire chief," said Hampton, who retired after 24 years with the department. "He has been deputy chief for a number of years and was getting himself ready for this position. I think he will do a good job." 

Benjamin began to seriously consider climbing the chain of command about six years ago. "Working with a couple of great chiefs (Bill Madore and Hampton) kind of spiked that (desire) for me," he said.

Among Benjamin's objectives is to see that every firefighter is fully trained to do their job, particularly those being promoted into new positions. He also wants to build upon existing relationships with different organizations in the community and promoting public education regarding fire prevention. 

"One of the best parts of the job is working with the schools and community to make the community safer," Benjamin said.

Benjamin spoke with pride regarding the department he refers to as a "multi-faceted machine." 

"We can't be experts in everything, but we try to put our people in a position to be successful through their training and the tools they need to work with," Benjamin said. "Let's face it, we meet people at the worst times, and we try to make their day a little bit better."

danny.henley@courierpost.com