El Paso Fire Department Chief Otto Drozd
El Paso Fire Chief Otto Drozd III talks abot hte reasons that he has decided to leave El Paso next month to take over the fire department in Orange County, Fla. Drozd's resignation with the El Paso Fire Department will go into effect on Nov. 23. Ruben R Ramirez/El Paso Times (rrr)

With tears in his eyes, El Paso Fire Chief Otto Drozd III announced Wednesday that he will leave El Paso next month for the same position in his home state of Florida.

Drozd's resignation from the El Paso Fire Department will go into effect Nov. 23.

"It's always a hard decision, and it is always bittersweet," he said. "We love El Paso, and we believe it is on the right track."

After an 11-month process, Drozd has been named the next fire chief of the Orange County Fire Rescue Department, which is the largest in Florida and includes Orlando and Disney World.

"I had an opportunity to get my family back to our home state," Drozd said.

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Aaron Bracamontes

Orange County's last chief, Carl Plaugher, resigned earlier this month after serving for 12 years. Drozd said he was not looking forward to leaving El Paso but views his new job as a "professional challenge."

"They have a solid foundation, but even with the best departments there is always room for improvement," Drozd said. "We will be looking for those improvements."

Drozd has more than 20 years of experience and a master's degree in management from St. Thomas University in Miami. Drozd received a bachelor's degree in public management from Florida Atlantic University and an associate degree in business and fire science from Miami Dade Community College.

Before he came to El Paso, Drozd was the fire chief for Hialeah, Fla., for eight years. He was named the El Paso Fire Department's fire chief in February 2009 and officially took over in April 2009.

During that time, Drozd said, he has formed special bonds with his staff and the city.

"The hard part is leaving the people," Drozd said as his eyes watered up. "It's about having a passion, a love for what we do. It's about the people."

City officials said they will seek input from stakeholders and Drozd when naming an interim fire chief. City Manager Joyce Wilson said officials might name an interim chief within two weeks.

Choosing the next fire chief will take longer than that, Wilson said.

"Usually something like that is a 90-day process," Wilson said. "Of course, if we do a full-blown recruitment, which goes outside of El Paso, that will take longer. But I haven't decided if I want to do that."

Drozd said the El Paso Fire Department is set for the next chief to take over.

"My message is to put the focus where it should be, and that is why we exist," Drozd said. "There will always be someone out there who picks up the phone and calls 911. That is why we are here. If they keep that as the focus, then it should do all right."

In a news release the city said Drozd increased the number of paramedics in El Paso by about 35 percent.

Earlier this year, the department received international accreditation. It also was given a Class 1 rating by the Insurance Service Office.

"He accomplished a lot of things in his tenure here," said Lt. Joe Tellez, president of the El Paso Association of Firefighters. "It is sad to see him leave, but we need to keep moving forward. There are a lot of things in the works right now."

Tellez said that he enjoyed Drozd's approach to labor management and that he hoped the next chief would continue that relationship.

"He always strived for the best for the department," Tellez said.

Drozd said he was proud of what he has done in his three years in El Paso.

"The road tracks are set for whoever takes over for me," Drozd said. "At times it was change, and change is hard. But as an organization you need to set the bar high or you'll never succeed, and that's what we do here."

Aaron Bracamontes may be reached abracamontes@elpasotimes.com; 546-6156. Follow him on Twitter @AaronBrac