Troup County Fire Department Dennis Knight on Friday announced plans to reorganize the fire department with more supervisors and creating a deputy chief position.
The announcement comes almost a month after an incendiary County Commission meeting where Commissioner Tripp Foster publicly said there were problems within the fire department not being handled by administration, and denounced the hiring process for the new chief. However, there were no such fireworks at Friday’s work session, the first Commission meeting since the April 8 verbal fracas. Foster also spoke in support of Knight and the reorganization initiative during the meeting.
“I just wanna say that I totally support Chief Knight and what he’s standing before this Commission and county manager here today saying,” Foster said during Friday’s meeting. “Chief Knight has been with this department over 25 years. He understands what is involved, where it’s been in the past, where it is currently, and he has a working understanding of where it needs to go in the future. Without our support in this endeavor – which I’m sure the Commissioners will work hard to do that – he can not be successful as a fire chief, nor could anybody else in this position. I just wanna say that – that I support him in the hard work he is doing, and the only way he can be successful is to have a command staff in place.”
County Manager Tod Tentler said he and Knight had looked at ways to reorganize the department going into next fiscal year’s budget.
“Our organization now is very inefficient,” Knight said. “We’ve got to start moving forward and make things much more efficient.”
Firefighters generally work 24-hour shifts. Knight said his work force changing every 24 hours makes it difficult to handle some problems because there is no day-to-day continuity. He noted that the department currently has shift captains managing 17 to 19 firefighters per shift, but the number of subordinates reporting to supervisors should be three to seven.
“That’s the standard nationwide in the fire service, both on the fire ground and doing other duties, administrative duties back at the station,” Knight said. “As you can see, we far exceed that span of control.”
Knight said he was looking at the department’s organizational chart - which shows the different fire department ranks and responsibilities - to see how to better assign duties and balance the division of labor among employees. He also was looking at the budget to see about promoting six firefighters to crew leader or company officer positions, and re-evaluating the duties of shift lieutenants that serve as backup to shift captains.
More firefighters with supervisory responsibilities will help Knight ensure a better span of control and help ensure he can more easily reach and have a closer working relationship with supervisors. Knight expected the proposed changes would be reviewed during the Commission’s budget review meeting for the next year, expected to be set later this month.
The first change will be before the Commission on Tuesday, when it will consider a move to turn the vacant captain position that Knight previously held into a deputy or assistant chief position. The position has been open since the retirement of Jerry Heard in December.
Tentler didn’t expect the change in rank to cost any additional funds, noting that Knight had held the captain position for many years, so expected the same pay would be entry level for the new deputy chief rank.
Foster asked that whoever fills the position have the opportunity to eventually more compensation. Tentler said the person who becomes deputy chief will “absolutely” be able to work up the pay scale.
“We want the best qualified person for that position,” he said.