When he was growing up in Greenwood, South Carolina, Bill Daniel sometimes went to fires with his brother, who was an arson investigator for SLED.
It sparked an interest in him that led to a firefighting and public safety career and, eventually, to become chief of the Clemson University Fire Department. On December 31, he will retire from Clemson after 35 years as a full-time employee and four years as a student firefighter.
“His vision and commitment to fire prevention and community risk reduction has led to a safer Clemson for students, staff, faculty and visitors,” said Greg Mullen, associate vice president for public safety and chief of police. “His leadership during a time of unprecedented growth, both on campus and in the community, has been critical.
“His service, commitment and love for the Clemson community has been unwavering and will be missed.”
Mullen said the University has launched a national search for Daniel’s replacement.
That “phenomenal growth” of the campus and community has been a major driver of changes to the Clemson University Fire Department since Daniel was a student firefighter in the early 1980s. “It’s just blossomed today and it just continues to grow,” he said.
After high school, during which he was a volunteer firefighter at a local station, Daniel enrolled at Clemson in 1981 as a chemistry major. “I tell everyone I got really good at firefighting after all those sections on organic peroxides,” he joked.
In exchange for a room and a small wage, he worked as one of four students who backed up the University’s four full-time firefighters.
Daniel graduated in 1985 with a degree in a different major: administrative management in occupational safety and health. He earned paramedic certification and went to work in Pickens County before returning to Clemson a year later as a firefighter-paramedic.
As Daniel grew in his career – to captain, shift supervisor and, in 2001, to chief – the department was growing, too.
There are now 12 firefighters on each shift along with two stations: the main station on Perimeter Road on campus and a second on Issaqueena Trail providing additional fire and EMS service to a fast-growing part of the city. The Fire Department has three engines, two ladder trucks and four ambulances.
“Chief Daniel has been a driving force in enhancing Clemson fire and EMS regarding training, equipment and technology,” Mullen said. “During his tenure, the department added personnel, facilities and expanded service capabilities for the University and city of Clemson.”
Among the personnel added to the department are a number of women, including one who is a captain. That was a big change in the once males-only profession. Daniel said the Perimeter Road fire station was built with just one restroom and one shower for men only. An office had to be converted to add them for women.
Technology has also changed significantly. While firefighters and paramedics used to memorize maps to know where to go when called, they now carry digital maps in their phones. Ambulances have advanced lifesaving technology and paramedics joke it may not be long before they have handheld diagnostic devices like the one used by Dr. McCoy on Star Trek.
They still spend a lot of their time on training, fire prevention and inspecting buildings to be sure they are constructed safely and have enough exits.
The latter hits home for Daniel, who recalls the 1988 fire where a graduate student died. The fire was set by two brothers from Bishopville who started it to distract from their burglary at a jewelry store. The student was unable to escape through the only exit from her burning third-floor apartment.
“Any time we have a fatality, we take it personally,” he said.
The COVID pandemic has added another layer to the Fire Department’s focus on safety.
“Just trying to keep our employees safe, knowing that every house we go in, every EMS call we go on is a potential exposure, we increased the use of PPE and health monitoring,” Daniel said.
“We didn’t really slow down with the pandemic,” he said. “Without students on campus we didn’t run the intramural calls to Fike (for injuries) or EMS calls to the dorms, but as more people stayed home and started cooking, we started running more kitchen fires and grill fires.”
Daniel’s last day on the job is December 31. He doesn’t have any specific plans for his retirement, although he joked that his wife, Teresa, “already has a list.”
He does plan to stay active in the community.
“Thirty-nine years is enough,” he said of his time responding to fires, accidents, health crises and trying to keep the community safe. “I’m looking forward to sleeping all night.”
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