Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell has been relieved of command over fire services but will retain his post as Emergency Management Agency director following a mishap with a fire truck last month that injured three firefighters.
Jeff Hood has been named interim fire chief.
During a training exercise in July, firefighters TJ Elliott, Stephen Jackson and Will Griffin were seriously injured when the bucket atop a fire truck ladder fell 44 feet. Elliott and Jackson were both airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, while Griffin was treated at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
“I am anxious to find the cause of the truck accident more than anyone,” Kimbrell wrote in an internal email Monday morning obtained by The Times. “I look forward to what (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) finds when they come in to do their investigation, and the final report of the county and their investigation. Hopefully, that will prevent this from ever happening somewhere else and will prevent this from happening here again.”
Kimbrell couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
The training exercise involved maneuvering the ladder truck that was acquired in April for the new Fire Station No. 16.
The fire truck was sold by the fire department that owned it previously because of mechanical problems.
The county has retained an independent forensic engineer to assist county investigators, in addition to representatives from the cable manufacturer and fire truck manufacturer Sutphen Corp.
County officials said the change in command is part of a broader initiative to streamline management of public safety departments.
“Giving these public servants more focused roles within Hall County government will enhance our ability to serve and protect the public, whose health and well-being is, as always, our first priority,” County Administrator Randy Knighton said in a statement.
But Kimbrell’s involvement in the purchase of the defective fire truck played a critical role in his departure from the fire department.
“We have discussed the fact that because (Kimbrell) was involved with the purchase of the truck, it would be better off if we had someone else running the department while we are trying to figure out what happened with the truck,” Commissioner Craig Lutz told The Times. “We don’t want any appearance of bias in this investigation. Our goal is to identify what happened and prevent it from ever happening again.”
Kimbrell’s exit from the fire department post will come with a pay cut.
“His job salary as EMA director will be commensurate with the job duties and responsibilities of that position,” Knighton said. “There will be an adjustment in salary.”
County officials said there is no timeline for concluding their investigation into what caused the accident.
“I would refrain from providing a timeline, only because we want to make sure we’ve got all of the facts first,” Knighton said.
Meanwhile, officials have asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to conduct its own investigation, tentatively set to begin Sept. 2.
Hood, who was appointed deputy fire chief in January, addressed fire department personnel Monday in a letter obtained by The Times.
“As we start a new chapter in the department, my vision for Hall County Fire Services is to retain beneficial traditions and procedures that have brought us this far while combining the most up to date, progressive and successful models of public safety,” Hood wrote. “This department has never failed to rise to the occasion and has always gone above and beyond what has been required of them. As we face the future, our mission is clear and together we will succeed.”