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Dawson County names new fire and emergency services director
Fire Chief Troy Leist
Troy Leist began his job as Dawson County’s new fire and EMS chief on Sept. 26. - photo by Julia Hansen

For the last half of his career in California, longtime firefighter Troy Leist always envisioned moving to the South upon retirement. 

As Leist now starts his job as Dawson County’s new fire and emergency services director, he’s glad to have made that happen.

This story continues below. 

His installment at the beginning of this week follows Fire Chief Danny Thompson’s departure from the department at the end of August. 

Leist was born and raised in California. He explained that his love for outdoor activities like fishing and his desire for something different led him to look for jobs in the Southeast. 

Just over a year ago, as Leist was nearing retirement with the Seaside Fire Department in the Monterey Bay area of California, his son was going through the firefighter academy. 

Unbeknownst to Leist, his son later applied for a firefighter position in Dawson County, scoring an interview and eventually the job. His son relocating to the area gave Leist yet another reason to come to Dawson County. 

Prior to taking on the director position here, Leist worked for 30 years as a firefighter, advancing from the role of a reserve firefighter to a division chief. 

And he’s no stranger to disasters.

“California is one big disaster,” Leist said. “I’ve been to riots, fires, floods, tornadoes…you name it, I've pretty much done it.”

Just as he’s worked to be intentional in his emergency response endeavors, Leist said he also wants to continue his focus on being community oriented. 

“I love being a part of the community and helping, whether it’s the schools, afterschool [or] mentoring programs… things like that,” Leist said. “I want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can for our community. That’s what we’re here for.”

So far in his role, Leist pointed to employee retention and recruitment as the department’s overall “number one issue.” 

Hiring more personnel was likewise something Chief Thompson had spoken to the Board of Commissioners about during multiple public meetings over the last year. 

“It’s becoming a very competitive occupation, especially in Georgia,” Leist said. “Jurisdictions are jockeying for who can provide the best pay and the best benefits, so it's going to be a challenge to work through that.”

He added that resolving the issue was “going to take time,” given the expenses associated with adding personnel and equipment.

Aside from it being his initial days on the job, the possibility of inclement weather from Hurricane Ian is making Leist’s first week as Fire & EMS director even more interesting, he said. 

With different forecast models showing possible westerly and easterly tracks for the hurricane, Leist said he and his colleagues expect to have a better idea about the storm's path tomorrow.

People can go to the “Dawson County Fire and Emergency Services” Facebook page for disaster preparedness tips and follow the page for any future storm updates.