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North Little Rock fire chief Murphy dies after heart surgery; led department since '14

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Photographs by Benjamin Krain

James Murphy

North Little Rock Fire Chief Jim Murphy died overnight Saturday due to complications from heart surgery, a city spokesman confirmed Sunday afternoon. He was 65.

Murphy, who spent the bulk of his four decades in fire service in Florida, was tapped to lead the North Little Rock Fire Department in 2014 after a national search to replace retiring Chief Robert Mauldin. Murphy's third anniversary with the city would have been in August.

North Little Rock Assistant Fire Chief Gerald Tucker will take the helm of the department as interim chief, Nathan Hamilton, North Little Rock communications director, said Sunday.

Mayor Joe Smith asked Murphy to leave retirement and the Sunshine State to take over the North Little Rock department in the summer of 2014. On Sunday, the mayor released a statement on Murphy's death through a spokesman.

"He was a great chief, but a better person," Smith said. "We're grateful for the time he was able to be with our city."

For more than two years, Murphy oversaw a force of 182 in Pulaski County's second-largest city. In addition to the standard firefighting operation, the North Little Rock Fire Department also houses a special operations response team, hazardous materials team and water rescue team.

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Murphy left retirement and moved to central Arkansas after 25 years at Orange County (Fla.) Fire Rescue as a firefighter, paramedic, company officer and training officer.

In retirement, he also co-founded a pair of interactive training software programs for first responders.

In a 2014 interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Murphy said he had been offered other jobs over the years but something about North Little Rock stood out.

"I actually had taught a [fire services] class [in North Little Rock] many years ago and made some friends there," Murphy said. "When I took a city tour, everyone I met was warm and friendly and just had that Southern hospitality, and I fell in love with it. The research I did about the city and its school system told me that they are technologically ahead of a lot of communities.

"I had been interviewed for other jobs and offered other jobs. The thing that impressed me the most, other than the city itself and its people, was the integrity of the mayor wanting to pick the right person for the job."

As for the search for a new fire chief, Hamilton said the city was focused on helping Murphy's family.

On Sunday, comments poured in on the North Little Rock Fire Department's Facebook page from posters in Arkansas and Florida. The department had shared a photo of its departed chief beside a large mascot Dalmatian. As he did in most photos, Murphy wore a wide grin beneath his thick white mustache.

Metro on 03/20/2017

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