A fire chief from Littleton, Colorado, will lead Hall County Fire Services beginning Oct. 29, County Administrator Jock Connell announced Friday morning.
Armstrong, who got his start in the Miami suburb of Miramar, Florida, was hired after an 11-month gap since Hood’s resignation. Deputy Chief Mark Arnold has worked as interim chief since November.
The new chief is the product of a nationwide search launched after Hood’s resignation, a search that started after a months-long listening session from Connell, who spent weeks in interviews with Hall County Fire Services staff and leadership talking through issues within the department.
While members of the department had concerns about pay and the hierarchy, the “loudest” and “clearest” concerns were those about the morale of Fire Services.
On that front, and all the others, Connell said he had no doubts about Armstrong.
“This is one of the most impressive individuals that I have ever interviewed and hired regardless of wherever I’ve been in my career,” Connell told The Times on Friday. “Chris Armstrong is the real deal. I am convinced of that.”
Connell said Armstrong had “strong, strong leadership capabilities” and was “very focused on looking at data and making decisions based upon data — not just about how somebody feels or how the wind is blowing that day.”
Also earlier this year, details surfaced about how an arson investigator had led Hood to believe members of his own department were spying on him in 2016. That charge was later proven false — eventually leading to charges of false testimony against the investigator, Dax Lewis.
And in 2017, the department was embroiled in scandal at the behavior of ex-chief David Kimbrell, who was fired from his job as emergency management director in 2017 after video surfaced of him engaging in lewd sex acts while fire chief.
Armstrong will have the job of not only running Fire Services, but restoring its public face. It’s a job he’s faced before — when Armstrong took the job of fire chief at Littleton, the department had just held a vote of no-confidence for its former fire chief.
“There was a lot of distrust between some of the chief officers and the line personnel … but I was fortunate to be able to turn that around and create a more healthy environment,” Armstrong said in a phone interview from Colorado. “I don’t know how the firefighters feel. I can imagine how they feel and some of the things they’ve gone though, but I wouldn’t have applied for Hall County if I didn’t think it was a great department. It’ll be a challenge, but it’s one that I feel comfortable with.”
Armstrong has served as fire chief in Littleton since 2014.
“Chief Armstrong really had to come in and get that morale built back up and get the troops operating like they needed to,” said Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman in a phone interview on Friday. “It really was cool to watch as a group get back together again.”
Armstrong said he feels equipped to handle any turnaround that might be required in Hall County.
He was first hired in Florida in 1998, and rose through the ranks becoming a lieutenant in 1995, a captain overseeing hiring and training for new recruits in 1998, a division chief in 2000 and deputy chief of operations in 2009.
“Obviously working with this office and administration, we’re going to let Chris come in and get the lay of the land, assess the situation, assess what’s going in the department now ... where the department is,” Connell said. “I’m going to let him get the lay of the land first and get his perception on that and where he thinks we are. He may think we’re in a different place than I do.”
Armstrong has a master’s degree in emergency services management and a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety, both from Columbia Southern University in Orange Beach, Alabama. Among other certifications, he also completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at Harvard University in 2012.
He received the highest possible scores on a performance evaluation by Littleton’s city manager in March.
In Colorado, Littleton voters will decide in November whether the city’s fire and emergency services will be taken over by South Metro Fire Rescue, which serves 179 square miles in Douglas and Arapahoe counties.
In April, the Littleton City Council approved South Metro Fire Rescue to provide service starting in 2019, according to the South Metro website. Brinkman said Armstrong’s position in Colorado wasn’t in jeopardy as a result of the vote.
Armstrong told The Times that his wife has family in Forsyth County, and that he and his family have been looking for opportunities to move back east since 2017.
Times staff members Megan Reed and Shannon Casas contributed to this report.