Fire Chief, Shreveport Fire Department
Now resides in: Shreveport
Degree: Master of Arts, Industrial Psychology
How I got to Tech: I was never much of a student and barely graduated from high school. In fact, had I not been playing football at Southwood High, that too may have been in jeopardy. After joining the Fire Department in 1984 I had a great mentor who saw something in me that I did not see in myself and one, encouraged me to go into administration in 1996 after 11 years as a firefighter, and two, to pursue my college degree. After pleading my academic deficiencies to him as a good reason not to go, he was persistent and encouraged me to take just one class at the local community college. Two years later in 1998 I completed my Associated of Science in Paramedic from Bossier Parish Community College. In 2000 I completed my Bachelor of Science in Organizational Management from Wiley College of Marshall, Texas and that led me to the doorstep of Louisiana Tech. In 2002 I completed by Master of Arts in Industrial Psychology and in 2006 I completed Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government for Senior Executives in State and Local Government. I went to college for six straight years, year round, and was actually scared to stop going for fear I would forget something before I could graduate with my master's.
After graduating: I continued my career with the Shreveport Fire Department and moved into a new position in 2002 as the Assistant to the Fire Chief. My responsibilities were to supervise the administrative staff, oversee the department's $45-million operating budget, human resources management, direct strategic planning, and operate as the organization's liaison to all government agencies and partnerships incumbent to the department.
In July of 2008 I was selected by Shreveport Mayor Cedric B. Glover to become the Fire Chief for the Shreveport Fire Department and have the overall responsibility for 620 employees and to ensure the mission of the organization, "To provide the highest level of emergent and non-emergent service to the citizens of Shreveport," is maintained.
Why I chose this career: I don't have the great story that my predecessor, Tech graduate and now Atlanta (Ga.) Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran had of always wanting to be a firefighter since he was a child. In 1984 I was a young 19-year-old husband and father. My family and I were living with in-laws to try and make ends meet. To say we were poor was an understatement. When the Fire Department called I jumped at the opportunity, namely because it was steady and secure employment and had good health benefits for my young family. I often say when speaking publicly now that I owe the City of Shreveport and the Shreveport Fire Department a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay. Today, they are my second family and I can't imagine ever having done anything else.
The different jobs I've had within the department:
- From 1984-1989 I was a firefighter and was assigned to some of the busiest equipment in the city: Downtown's Engine 1 and later Rescue 1. The time of Rescue 1 was probably the most enjoyable because we were always busy and made all of the large fires in the city as well as major vehicle accidents.
- In 1989 I was reassigned to a Medic Unit (ambulance) and in 1991 became a paramedic. At this same time I also began working as a flight paramedic of Life Air Rescue for the consortium of Willis-Knighton and Schumpert Medical Centers. I would continue to work as a flight paramedic until 2002, successfully completing more than 750 missions.
- In 1995 I became an EMS Officer and assisted in the development of the department's first quality assurance program as well as expansion of the overall medical service provided to the city.
- In 1998 Shreveport Fire Training Officer Jimmy Bryant left our department to become the Fire Chief in Monroe. This created a void and the Academy need someone to finish the paramedic refresher class that Chief Bryant had begun. I had no particular interest in being a Training Officer but found myself volunteered for the temporary assignment. After several months at the Academy I fell in love with teaching and applied and was selected to fill the position fulltime.
- In 2000 I became the department's first Public Information Officer and oversaw all public and medic relations of the department.
- In 2002 I became the Assistant to the Fire Chief.
- In 2008 I became the Fire Chief.
When I decided I needed to move "from the truck" to another
service within the department: The mentor that I spoke of earlier that saw something, leadership, in me that I did not see in myself was named Richard Lazarus. Richard was the Chief of EMS and encouraged me to join him in administration as one of newly created positions of EMS Officer. This was a difficult choice because I loved the emergency operational aspect of the fire service because it was where I thought I could do the most good. After several weeks and numerous conversations, Chief Lazarus was able to convince me that I could actually do more to enhance our EMS service at the administrative level than where I was. And he was right.
What a "firefighter" does that is different from the way I thought of firefighters before I became one: Several things have changed the way firefighters operate today. The first is the level of expected service by the citizens. From the beginning of the Shreveport Fire Department in the 1890 through the mid-1970s their main purpose was fire suppression. In the late-70s-early-80s, the public demand for a better emergency medical provider forced the department into the EMS service. In the 1990s the department began operations in hazardous materials because of the increased exposure of the community to chemicals traveling its highways and byways. In the 2000s and particularly after the events of September 11, 2001 and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2006, we found ourselves heavily involved in emergency management and the mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery of natural and manmade disasters. As you might imagine all of the additional disciplines have created the necessity that all firefighters are highly skilled and trained more today than ever before.
The second change is in the use if information technology (IT) in enhancing our ability to provide the greatest level of service to our citizens. Pin-based computerized patient reporting systems, mobile data computers aboard each piece of emergency equipment, electronic medical hardware and software, vehicle tracking systems, and computer aided dispatch are just a few of the IT items we are dependent upon today to maintain our great service.
My favorite piece of Tech clothing I still have: I have a very old grey Tech t-shirt that is so disheveled and barely holding together that I no longer machine-wash it. It was once a shirt so popular that my oldest son once told his friends as I was on my way to his apartment in Baton Rouge to help him move, "Keep a look our for my dad. He will be in khaki shorts and a grey Louisiana Tech T-shirt." Today it is regulated to delicate wear around the house. I really need to get a new one.
Some of my best memories of Tech: I went to Tech-Barksdale in Bossier City and my most fond memories of those two years were the great people and lifelong friends I met there. Most all were working professionals during the day and students by night. Most had families and similar interests and like me, all who I grew to know had a burning desire to succeed. I still keep in contact with a number of those I attended class with, and all look back fondly on our time at Tech.
Advice to incoming college freshmen: Keep your eye on the prize and your mind open to new and expanded opportunities. That is to say, the means to the end is graduating. Do all you can to ensure that this is your top priority and no matter what adversity or challenges come your way, make it your mission to complete this goal. Even if you are a 32-year-old freshman as I was. Reading my story you should have surmised that most of the positions I acquired I did not seek. Fortunately I had great mentors, coaches and leaders to point and sometimes shove me through the window of opportunity. Because of this I later realized what it was I wanted to do and took over the responsibility of guiding my own career and taking advantage of every educational or advancement opportunity that came my way. You may not be as fortunate and have that same advantage of having someone there to guide you early. If that is the case, you yourself have to be able to recognize what you are doing today in school has a direct affect on your opportunities later. These may very well be opportunities that you have not even thought about or considered but may very well be your future.
What are two or three things each of us can do to best prevent fires?:
1. Never leave an open flame, i.e. space heater, candle, stove, etc., burning unattended, even for a minute. These are the leading causes of fires and fire deaths in the nation.
2. For those collegiates our there - do not come home after drinking and try to fry something or smoke a cigarette. Both of these can lead to disaster as you will inevitably forget that you have lit the stove and will fall asleep with the cigarette in your hand - which will fall bringing the cigarette into contact with the couch, bedding, or floor where you lay. Both will kill you.
Family: Wife and Tech Alumni, the former Stacey Lynn Thompson of Pineville, (BS accounting '94, MA business administration '96). Stacey is the Chief Financial Officer for Bossier Parish Community College.
Children, Brent 25, Kristen 21, Landon 5, and Hayden 3.