Hail to the Chief

By Sally G. Yoder

Patty Wrensen quickly changed her clothes and hopped on her bike in hopes of casually bumping into Charlie Fant. It was 1974 and the 16 year old was smitten with her neighbor. She must have found him because they were married in 1979 and were together until his death in January.

Fant was the youngest fire chief in the state when he took the top spot in the Treasure Island Fire Department. He served his community for 41 years and was a devoted family man. Photo courtesy of Patty Fanta

“He was a wonderful husband and person. Everyone agrees he was a man of kind- ness, service, diplomacy and integrity,” she says. “My brother recently reminded me how Charlie kept the confidence of George W Bush’s secret service detail when the president was visiting Treasure Island. I didn’t find out about his visit till it was over! Charlie’s life was a life of service. He was a wonderful family man with a quick witted sense of humor.”

Retired Treasure Island Fire Chief Charles “Charlie” Fant was the epitome of an icon, defined as an object, often a person, of “uncritical devotion.” He was devoted to his to his family, the community and most certainly the fire service and all it represents throughout the beach area and Pinellas County.

As Charlie grew up his interest in the fire department grew too, and he and friends would jump on bikes to get to the station when the local fire siren sounded. At 18, he immediately signed up to become a volunteer firefighter. He went on to become a professional firefighter and paramedic.

In 1971 he was hired by the Treasure Island Fire Department fulfilling his dream of being a firefighter in his hometown. He was a graduate of the first class of paramedics in Pinellas County and became the face of the department as its chief in 1982–the youngest fire chief in the state.

He worked hard to improve the fire depart- ment and the entire fire service in the county. During his 41-year career, the department enjoyed community support especially from the Treasure Islettes.

Serving as president of the Pinellas County Fire Chiefs Association, Charlie was instrumental in getting many improvements including new equipment for many departments in the county. Treasure Island became the first department in the area to obtain Advanced Life Support (direct electronic and radio con- tact) with a doctor in the nearest hospital ER. He was often first on a fire scene, and once dove in the bay to rescue a victim of a plane crash suffering aviation gas burns.

Charlie was the son of former commissioner and mayor Julian Fant who often went on fire calls. “He was exceptional,” says his dad.

He was a civic leader who along with his wife Millie, raised their family in Treasure Island. Many friends say Charlie “lived and breathed fire rescue,” and he was known to so many as a kind man, a good listener, a helping hand lender, and the fire service was his life next to his family. In his off hours he enjoyed outdoor activities, hiking and exploring local waters in his kayak. He was well known not only in the city he loved but everywhere in the area. He was a strong family man who alongside Patty, raised two daughters, Juliana and Erika.

He retired in 2012 and he and Patty took up traveling often to New York and Europe. In 2016 he was diagnosed with cancer and died on Jan. 17.

Charlie and wife Patty are
flanked by their daughters Juliana (left) and Erika (right). Patty and Charlie ran into each other in the neighborhood in 1974 and were married in 1979. After he retired they spent time traveling.

“Charlie was a quiet, unflappable, dedicated visionary for his entire (41 years) with the city. And he left an indelible legacy on our fire department and the city as a whole. We will forever be indebted to his service,” said Mayor Bob Minning.

After his death, the Treasure Island icon was escorted by fellow firefighters and police officers from St. Anthony’s Hospital to the funeral home. A fleet of fire/rescue and police vehicles, a large contingent of honor guards and a crowd of several hundred friends, relatives and former co-workers assembled at Pasadena Community Church on Jan. 27 to remember him–a fitting tribute.