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Huntsville Fire & Rescue’s Mac McFarlen to receive ‘Career Fire Chief of the Year’ award

Published on February 9, 2023

Huntsville Fire & Rescue Chief Howard “Mac” McFarlen is the latest recipient of the Career Fire Chief of the Year award from the Alabama Association of Fire Chiefs (AAFC).

Huntsville Fire & Rescue Chief Howard “Mac” McFarlen.

With 45 years of fire service experience, McFarlen has contributed significantly to public safety in the City of Huntsville, Madison County and State of Alabama. Known for his steady demeanor and commitment to keeping Huntsville safe, McFarlen exemplifies the finest in public safety leadership.

“Mac has gotten our community through numerous disasters, from devastating tornados and floods to harrowing rescues and industrial accidents,” Mayor Tommy Battle said. “He has consistently advocated for and implemented the highest training, health, fitness and accreditation standards for his employees. He also fought for competitive pay for personnel, along with state-of-the-art facilities, technology and equipment.”

The AAFC, a fellowship of fire chiefs and senior chief officers from across the state, will formally recognize McFarlen during the group’s fall conference in Gulf Shores.

The Career Fire Chief of the Year is the most prestigious honor the AAFC gives its chief fire officer executives. The award recognizes outstanding chiefs whose actions and leadership in their profession, home, community and country serve as an example and a challenge for other chief fire executives throughout the Southeast.

“Rarely does one encounter an individual with a passion for service and public safety that matches that of Chief McFarlen,” Mayor Battle said. “He has worked hard to advance firefighter and rescue worker excellence. There is not a single public safety organization or operation in Huntsville that has not benefitted in some way from his work.”

Since his early days as a volunteer firefighter, McFarlen has been looking for – and implementing – new and better ways to serve. In the early ‘90s, McFarlen secured funding, developed, implemented and managed a new dispatch division for 17 volunteer fire departments in Madison County.

He also restructured their radio numbering system, which is still in use today, and raised the professional bar by having county fire dispatch become the first in the region certified by National Academy of Emergency Medical Dispatchers. Soon thereafter, he served as chair of the Huntsville/Madison County E911 Operations Executive Committee.

McFarlen was instrumental in reorganizing Huntsville Fire & Rescue’s Hazmat Team to become a fully functional, 24/7 special assignment unit with certified and specially trained personnel. Since that time, he has further advanced the unit’s capabilities to become a special operations division and join the Alabama Mutual Aid System (AMAS). McFarlen went on to chair the AMAS Training Committee that oversaw the development and training of all AMAS teams statewide.

Always humble and steadfast in his dedication to the City, McFarlen is quick to give credit to the Fire & Rescue teams that save lives and protect property in Huntsville.

“I am extremely grateful for this award, and thank the AAFC for this honor,” he said. “I am also thankful for the brave men and women of Huntsville Fire & Rescue who I have the great privilege of leading each day. I look forward to continuing to serve with you and for the community as a whole.”