Fire Chief John Bilbo ready to serve Orange with dedication

Published 12:30 am Saturday, June 4, 2022

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John Bilbo feels honored to be in his new position.

“I really feel like I did the right thing coming up through the ranks. I feel like I have gotten respect and people are dedicated to me. I am excited about this opportunity and I think a lot of the staff is also.”

During a break in his busy first week as Orange Fire Department chief, the veteran community servant took a break for a few minutes to talk to Orange Newsmedia following his confirmation by the Orange City Council.

There is no time to rest, as Bilbo must now name a deputy fire chief and fire marshal.

The timeline to name the deputy chief?

“Definitely” within four weeks, Bilbo says.

“We’re going to go through an application process, do some interviews and make sure we get the right person for the job,” he said. “Of course, that is what I just went through with the city. We’re not going to change things up. We’re going to make sure we get it done the right way.”

The fire marshal slot should be filled within four months. The position doubles as a battalion chief’s position.

Bilbo said the department will soon be promoting battalion chiefs, captains and hiring new firefighters. City leaders have to give the battalion chief’s test, see who comes out on top, who’s going to get one of the positions and offer it to them.

“One of the big things is we want to get someone in the fire marshal’s office who wants to be there,” Bilbo shared. “Not all the guys want to work Monday through Friday, 8-5. Honestly, the 24-(hours) on, 48-(hours) off gig is pretty good. I miss it.

“It takes a special person and, again, we’re going to take our time and make sure we get the right person in there. We want to make sure that everybody works well together and is motivated to make sure we get the job done.”

Bilbo grew up in Orange and attended high school locally.

Like many of his classmates, he was eager to leave the area after graduation.

While working for a construction company, he was part of the team that built a military recruiters station at Northway Shopping Center.

Toward the end of the project, some recruiters started coming through and one got his hooks on Bilbo. He joined the U.S. Army and served for more than seven years.

He also got married shortly after joining the service.

“After my wife and I had been gone from town for seven years, we had two young boys and were ready to head back home,” Bilbo said. “I have been here ever since. I finished out my time between the Reserves and National Guard.”

That move led to 22 years of experience with the Orange Fire Department, serving as a firefighter, station captain, battalion chief and, most recently, fire marshal and interim fire chief.

He has earned a Bachelor of Science in Fire Science from Columbia Southern University. Additionally, he is a Texas Commission on Fire Protection (TCFP) Master Firefighter and a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) Master Peace Officer.

His many awards and certifications don’t distract from his commitment to the home and community that raised him.

“Now that I am getting older, all the stories that my dad, my uncles, great uncles and grandfathers told me are becoming more real,” Bilbo says. “I can see them clearer. I can appreciate the history of Orange. We have so much history here, and people just don’t know. They don’t realize what they are driving by.

“It’s crazy when you start digging into it. Getting a little older, you start getting a lot more interested and appreciate it more.”

That appreciation will certainly be felt by the people of Orange and the surrounding community.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher at Orange Newsmedia, which produces the Orange Leader and He can be reached at