What does it mean to you to be honored as this year's Career Fire Chief of the Year?
It's a tremendous honor to be recognized as the 2014 Fire Chief of the Year. When I look at the list of past winners, I wonder how I could possibly be included in such a group of fire service leaders that I have admired for a long time.
When I was standing on the podium, I thought about how many leaders were in the audience who could easily be standing in my place.
The award allows me to represent the men and women of the Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Service, the citizens of Tuscaloosa and the entire Alabama fire service. The award also recognizes the efforts of an entire organization and city we serve, and I was proud to accept on their behalf and also on behalf of my family, which has supported me all these years.
What has the reaction been from your department and community?
The reaction from the department and the community has been overwhelming and very humbling. There has been a tremendous amount of phone calls, emails, cards, parties and presentations, and I can’t begin to thank everyone enough for all the support I've been given. Mayor Maddox has gone above and beyond in his support, and I really can’t thank him enough for the proclamation at City Council and all his support through the years.
I've received proclamations from the Alabama House of Representatives, the Alabama Senate and Governor Bentley. I received an Alabama flag that was flown over the Capitol in my honor. The response from everyone has been far beyond my expectations.
Who has been the biggest influence, inside or outside the fire service, on your success? Why?
The biggest influence on my career and my life has been my wife, Janet. I think all of us who have been in this business very long will tell you it's hard to put into words how valuable the support we get from our spouses is. When I think back to my earlier years and how much time I spent furthering my education and studying for promotions and how much time I was away from home working two or three jobs, there's no way I could have done that without that unselfish support I received.
The way that influenced my career is that I think I finally realized this isn't about me. I should be approaching this job the way my wife has approached her support of me. This should be about my family, children, department and fellow man—serving them the way my wife and family have served me all these years. John Maxwell said if we want to accomplish something, we shouldn’t try to impress people; we should allow them to impress us.
When was your most difficult time in the fire service and how did you overcome it?
There have been a few times in my career that things could have been better. I think anyone that has been in this job as long as I have would tell you that. I don’t like to dwell on those times as much as I do the positive things that have happened.
In a career that spans 40 years, there are lots of difficult things you have to deal with. Losing firefighters both in the line of duty and off duty, not getting promoted, change of leadership, changing departments, are all difficult issues that I have been through, but I don’t know that I could say there has been a most difficult out of everything I have experienced.
What concerns you the most about leadership in today’s fire service?
I am very encouraged about the leadership in today’s fire service. I don’t know that there has ever been a time in our history when we have had has many well-educated and well-trained officers as we have now.
I am concerned that we're losing experienced chief officers who we'll never be able to replace. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t seem like chiefs are staying on the job as long as they once did.
As we all know, our job has changed and we don’t have as many fires, our role in EMS is changing and public education is the future of the fire service, so there won’t be an opportunity for this generation to learn from experience as we have. They'll be forced to learn from education and training.
I don’t know if that's bad, but I do think those of us who have been here a while owe it to our younger officers to pass on what we have learned. We may not be as smart as they are, but we can look back farther than they can and advise them on what we have learned.
What one accomplishment are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of the day I pinned the badge on my son Christopher when he graduated from recruit school. As far as my career, I look back at all of the awards I have received this summer and I'm still surprised and humbled to receive the Alabama Fire Chief of the Year, Southeastern Fire Chief of the Year and the International Fire Chief of the year in one summer.
I believe all of us who can call ourselves firefighters receive a blessing from God. And as long as we believe that our purpose is to serve others through Him, we will continue to receive that blessing. When we stop doing that, we lose the blessing. I am blessed.