Durham County

Northern Virginia firefighter, mayor and 9/11 responder named new Durham fire chief

City Manager Tom Bonfield has named Robert J. Zoldos II as the next chief of the Durham Fire Department.
City Manager Tom Bonfield has named Robert J. Zoldos II as the next chief of the Durham Fire Department. City Durham

Durham has named a northern Virginia firefighter and mayor its new fire chief.

Robert J. Zoldos II will start work Nov. 13, replacing interim Chief Chris Iannuzzi.

Zoldos is the former three-term mayor of the small town of Lovettsville, Virginia, which is in Loudoun County in northern Virginia.

He has worked for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department for 25 years and is the deputy chief of the department’s health, safety and wellness division. He has also led Fairfax County’s urban search and rescue team.

9/11 squad leader at the Pentagon

Zoldos was a rescue squad officer at the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

He was part of a 72-person team whose first assignment was to “shore up” the left side of the Pentagon where the hijacked airplane hit the building, before it collapsed.

“We did true search and rescue the first couple [of days] and then switched to recovery mode,” Zoldos said Tuesday in a phone interview. The mission itself wasn’t a major change for him, he said, as his first urban search and rescue mission was after the U.S. Embassy was bombed in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1998.

Zoldos, 49, said he has given a lot of talks about going to the Pentagon on 9/11, and he often mentions “9/12,” the day after the attacks when the nation came together.

“I’m very proud of the work we did that day,” he said.

Zoldos has also been deployed multiple times for hurricanes, including Katrina.

What he wants to do in Durham

Chief Dan Curia retired from the Durham department this summer, as the city and county fire departments merged. The first fire station to open since the merger, Station 17, opened this week on Leesville Road in southeastern Durham. Curia is now the fire chief in Charleston, South Carolina.

Zoldos said the merger of Durham’s city and county fire departments helped attract him to the job.

“Emergency services should be line-less — the fire doesn’t care,” he said. “We want to keep those as absolutely border line-less as possible.” Zoldos said he would also like to raise the profile of Durham’s swift water and light urban search and rescue operations.

Zoldos’ salary will be $160,000. He will lead a department that has 418 full-time employees and an annual budget of $34.1 million.

“Chief Zoldos has an incredible breadth of experience, not only in the fire and emergency medical services, but also in urban search and rescue. ... We felt his extensive leadership experience and on-the-ground ‘know-how’ was a great fit for Durham,” City Manager Tom Bonfield said in a press release Tuesday.

Zoldos also previously worked as an adjunct fire instructor and fire rescue specialist for Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Services. He is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University and George Mason University.

Before serving for six years as mayor of Lovettsville, Zoldos spent 14 years on the town council there. His term ended in June. He had visited downtown Durham a few years ago and was “just blown away at how it was redone.” When the fire chief job opened, he and his wife visited again and felt the same way. This week they are signing a lease for a downtown apartment.

“We’re looking forward to getting season tickets to the Bulls and DPAC,” Zoldos said.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan
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