A lot has changed since Brad Tadlock moved to Hilton Head Island from rural Illinois in 1988, both for the town and for himself.

The community has gotten bigger, of course, and Tadlock has climbed the professional ladder within the ranks of the Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue department.

He joined the local department as a firefighter when he was just 23 years old, and on June 20, he completed his first year as fire chief.

“I could tell this was going to be a good job for my career,” said Tadlock, reflecting on the time he applied for and accepted a position on the force 28 years ago. “I liked Hilton Head, and I could see the growth potential. In 1988, Sea Pines and Pope Avenue was your hub, and many areas on the north end didn’t even have fire hydrants.”

Even though he had never stepped foot on the island before moving here, he was impressed with what he saw.

“I liked the idea of an area that was as dynamic as Hilton Head,” said the married stepfather of two grown children. “It (the fire department) was busy at that time … and just look at how busy we are now.”

From firefighter, Tadlock moved up to the senior firefighter rank, then fire apparatus operator, and then lieutenant.

When the local fire department, fire district and rescue squad consolidated in 1993 into what is now Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue, he became a captain, then a station caption, and was promoted to deputy chief in 2007.

Town Manager Steve Riley named him fire chief last year after Chief Lavarn Lucas retired.

Now, Tadlock is in command of two divisions (operations and support services), numerous subdivisions, and a team of 145 men and women, including 108 “line” operation firefighter-paramedics (dual-certified roles) and 12 dispatchers. All are paid positions.

The seven fire stations strategically located on the island responded to 6,467 calls for service in 2014, which included 4,561 for medical assistance and 1,886 for fire-related incidents. Overall, the department handled 48,407 incoming phone calls.

As fire chief, Tadlock never forgets that “we have to keep the organization moving forward and give them the ability to be successful out in the field. And we always have to remember why we’re here: To serve.”

For Tadlock and his team, state-of-the-art technology aids their service.

A few months ago, the department received the American Heart Assoc-iation’s Mission Lifeline EMS silver award for implementing quality improvement measures for the treatment of patients who experience severe heart attacks.

“It reflects on our commitment to cardiac care,” Tadlock said.

Additionally, the department partnered with the county two months ago to implement Smart911, which is an online database of personal profiles, Tadlock said. This free service allows citizens to create safety and health profiles of their household, which gives first responders more information about the 9-1-1 caller prior to arrival on the scene.

Don’t be surprised if you see a public safety drone operating in our friendly local skies in the near future. It’s likely coming your way.

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer living in Bluffton.