HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Huntsville Fire & Rescue’s very own Chief Howard “Mac” McFarlen has been chosen among his colleagues across the state to be awarded the most prestigious honor a fire chief can receive.

McFarlen was named the Career Fire Chief of the Year by the Alabama Association of Fire Chiefs (AAFC). Mac stands with over 45 years of fire service experience, with many of those years spent contributing in more ways than one to his community.

The Chief is well-known for his steady demeanor and his commitment to keeping Huntsville and its residents safe, exemplifying the “finest in public safety leadership,” City officials said.

“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.”

(Huntsville Fire & Rescue)

The firefighting veteran will be formally honored at a fall conference in Gulf Shores, surrounded by a fellowship of fire chiefs and senior chief officers from across Alabama.

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.

(Huntsville Fire & Rescue)

“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.”

McFarlen has been looking for – and implementing – new and better ways to serve his community since his first day of firefighting, the City said. In the early ‘90s, McFarlen secured funding, developed, implemented and managed a new dispatch division for 17 volunteer fire departments in Madison County.

Along with that, he restructured their radio numbering system (still in use today), and raised the bar by having county fire dispatch become the first in the region certified by the National Academy of Emergency Medical Dispatchers.

Mac then also served as chair of the Huntsville/Madison County E911 Operations Executive Committee.

(Huntsville Fire & Rescue)

“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.”

McFarlen was pivotal 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 then, he has advanced the unit’s abilities to become a special operations division and join the Alabama Mutual Aid System (AMAS) and proceeded to chair the AMAS Training Committee that led the development and training of all AMAS teams across the state.

The Chief has a reputation that proceeds him as humble and steadfast in his dedication to the City, quick to give credit to the Fire & Rescue teams that save lives and protect property in Huntsville.