Hall County has begun the search for a new fire chief.
County Administrator Jock Connell said the county hopes to fill the position by Sept. 1, if not sooner.
Jeff Hood, the former fire chief, resigned in October. Former Deputy Fire Chief Mark Arnold has been serving as interim fire chief since then.
Connell said the county hopes to hire someone experienced in leading a fire department, but the candidate’s character and integrity will also be crucial in making a decision.
“Ability is critical, but leadership skills may be the most significant attribute that we’re looking for because we need some strong leadership to occupy the position,” Connell said.
The fire department has experienced several leadership changes in recent years. In August 2014, then-Fire Chief David Kimbrell was relieved of command over fire services after an accident with a fire truck injured three firefighters. Kimbrell then became Emergency Management Agency director, and Hood took over the position of fire chief. A report that surfaced earlier this year showed turmoil in the department in April 2016, as Hood reported to the county sheriff’s office that he was being spied upon. Former arson investigator Lt. Dax Lewis later admitted he fabricated the story.
Then, in October 2017, Kimbrell was fired from his position with the Emergency Management Agency after illicit videos of him with a subordinate within the department were found.
At about that time, Hood resigned his position as fire chief.
Connell said he wanted to address issues within the fire department and has been meeting with employees in the department to discuss their concerns.
“I think there needed to be some time for things to settle down and for me to assess the situation myself, because without me knowing what the lay of the land is, it’s going to be really difficult for me to engage and hire a new fire chief,” Connell said.
The fire department currently has 356 active personnel, and there are 22 firefighter staff vacancies, according to county spokeswoman Katie Crumley. Crumley said a new recruitment class, which usually consists of about 25 recruits, is being advertised.
Connell said he considers the fire chief position to be a significant hire for the county and wants to take time to find the right person for the job.
“The fire department is such an integral part of the business community,” he said. “It’s so involved and has such an impact on the lives of our citizens.”