22 Questions in 2022: How will new chief shape county fire department?

Published 10:00 am Sunday, February 27, 2022

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Michael Strickland spent three months as the interim fire chief for the Troup County Fire Department, but now he’s settling into the role as chief of the department.

This role comes with its own weight of responsibilities and adjustments for Strickland, however with over 30 years of medical and fire personnel experience under his belt, Strickland is ready to put out any fires that come his way.

Strickland previously served as interim fire chief since October 2021 and as emergency management agency (EMA) director since January 2021.

“I think being here a year has definitely helped me understand who everybody is who works here, what their capabilities are, and it allowed them to get to know me,” Strickland said. “I think anytime you have a leader, or a fire chief, come in [as an outsider], you’re immediately met with skepticism. Them seeing me a 30-plus year veteran of the fire service … I think they can appreciate that a little bit more. I think I’ve earned a lot of their trust [and] respect, and I really think that’s going to help this department move forward.” 

In his new role, Strickland has several aspects of the department he plans to address, including keeping adequate staffing numbers for each of Troup County’s fire stations.

The department has a mix of both full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters who work anywhere from twelve hours to a full day each shift.

Keeping the county’s departments proportionately staffed is another aspect Strickland plans to continue to address. While other businesses and departments across the country have been hit with staffing shortages, Troup County’s Fire Department has been mostly spared and currently has all of its authorized positions filled. Strickland’s goal is to keep staffing steady enough so that each county fire truck has two firefighters each. Such a duo, he notes, is suitable for safety and operational reasons. With this, he’s also looking into the current state of the department’s engines to address which ones are in need of replacement.

Strickland wants all firefighters to be trained in emergency services. Most if not all firetrucks in the department have equipment such as automatic external defoliators and AEDS, but Strickland is interested in introducing equipment such as IVs.

“The fire department obviously responds to [structure fires,] but we also do much more than that,” Strickland said. “The majority of the fire department’s call volume are [medical] in nature. Really, that’s the majority of call volume of any fire department. When I got to Troup County, I was able to assess the current capabilities EMS-wise, and I’m trying to build it up some. I’m trying to build up our EMS response some by putting equipment on the fire trucks, so they can function on their level of training.” 

The department already has basic EMTs and advanced level EMTs. In November, the department teamed up with American Medical Response (AMR) to teach a class on basic EMT skills. When the class ends in February, all graduates will receive EMT basic certifications and will be certified to work aboard ambulances. If interested, graduates of the program could work part-time for AMR in addition to jobs at the fire department.

Another aspect Strickland plans to address is updating the county’s fire departments as needed. The fire station next to the TCFD’s headquarters is close to hitting 50 years old.

Some of the aspects he wants to address are ceiling and roof health on top of comfort amenities, such as furniture and televisions.

“When these firefighters work here 24-hours [a shift], they’re here a third of their lives,” Strickland pointed out. “I’m trying to go around to all the fire stations and find out some of the immediate needs.”

The most important development Strickland plans to pursue is creating strong communication between his department staff and surrounding emergency service agencies.

Strickland was still the county EMA director when the department was being investigated for a verbal harassment complaint by the then chief of the department, John Ekaitis.

The investigation, led by Frances Clay, a human resources attorney out of Macon, found that leadership within the department was “inconsistent” in how they reacted and addressed the employees.

On top of regular staff meetings, Strickland has implemented a monthly email called, “The Chief’s Corner” to staff members with information on the department’s happenings.

He also tries to visit stations regularly and address the staff personally.

“I really have to jump in here to figure out where the problems are,” Strickland said. “I’m trying to really open up the lines of communication with all the firefighters so that they know what is going on in the department and can ask questions. In the absence of good, reliable information, they’re going to make up their own stuff, and I’m trying to head that off.”