James P. Smith, former Philadelphia deputy fire chief, instructor, mentor, and author, dies at 75

James P. Smith, 75, formerly of Philadelphia, retired deputy chief of the Philadelphia Fire Department, nationally recognized firefighting expert, educator, lecturer and author, died of cancer Tuesday, March 1, at his home in Ocean City. NJ

Chief Smith knew firefighting like few others. He was a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department for 41 years, rising from a 19-year-old rookie in 1966 to deputy chief, the department’s highest official rank, in 1987. He has worked for engine and ladder companies in all aspects of the city fire department and was director of the Philadelphia Fire Academy for four years.

He graduated from the US Fire Administration’s Executive Fire Officer’s Program, made himself an authority on firefighting strategy and tactics and committed to sharing that knowledge, and became a popular instructor and mentor at the National Fire Academy, the Emergency Management Institute , and the National Emergency Training Center in Maryland.

With humor, common sense, and personal anecdotes, he lectured, analyzed, and testified to firefighting issues and procedures across the country and published a textbook, Strategic and tactical considerations for the Fireground, in 2016 in the fourth edition. He wrote and consulted books and hundreds of articles on firefighting and authored a column entitled “Fire Studies” that appeared in Firehouse Magazine for 34 years.

He was inducted into the magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2016, and his last column appeared in February.

“Travelling across the country teaching seminars and meeting firefighters of all sizes has shown me that talented firefighters are everywhere,” Chief Smith said in his most recent column. “It showed me that there is camaraderie in the fire service. It makes me proud to say that I am a firefighter.”

Colleagues and friends paid tribute to Chief Smith by saluting from freeway overpasses last week as his family traveled from Ocean City to Philadelphia between funeral services, and many wrote moving online tributes.

“He was one of the main reasons I chose fire and ambulance as my first career path,” said a colleague in one online tribute. Another wrote that Chief Smith was a “scholar, a teacher, a high priest of discipline, an inspiration to keep your head in the books and strive to perfect your craft”.

His son, James P. Smith Jr., the Ocean City Fire Chief, said: “His compassion separated him from most other people. As larger than life dad was with his achievements in the fire brigade, he was so much better as a person and as a family man.”

Chief Smith was born in Philadelphia on November 15, 1946, grew up in Tacony and graduated from Father Judge High School. He worked as a teenager to help his mother and nine younger siblings after his father died and got a job in the fire department right out of high school.

He met Patricia O’Malley in the neighborhood and they married in 1967. They had son Jim and daughter Colleen and lived in Tacony and Rhawnhurst before moving to Ocean City when he retired in 2007.

Outside of work, Chief Smith coached his son’s youth baseball, soccer and basketball teams and later closely followed his grandchildren’s athletic exploits, making scrapbooks from them and texting them encouragement and constructive advice.

On lazy summer afternoons, he would happily munch on family affairs, politics, and other topics with his daughter at the kitchen table. “It was always fun and often thought-provoking,” she said.

He cooked and baked (especially at the fire station), played cards and golf, and fished and rode dirt bikes in the Pocono Mountains. He personally renovated every room of their home in Tacony and later traveled to Europe with his wife.

“It never gets boring to hear people praising Dad not only for his knowledge but also for his wonderful behavior,” says his son wrote in a tribute this was published in Firehouse Magazine last month. “To use Dad’s own term, he’s a good person.”

In addition to his wife and children, Chief Smith is survived by five grandchildren, one great-grandson, four sisters and five brothers. A sister died earlier.

Services were on March 11th and 12th.

Donations can be made in his name Nonprofit Trust, Philadelphia Firefighters Local 22415 N. Fifth St., Philadelphia Pennsylvania 19123.

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