Tommy Tate is the new chief of the Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department after the city council voted 5-0 Thursday to appoint the 23-year DFRD veteran to the post.
“It’s kind of a relief because I’ve kind of been there before and I didn’t know what to expect,” an elated Tate said following the meeting. “I’m just looking forward to leading the department. It’s a big challenge and I look forward to that challenge.”
Tate, who has been the interim chief since Nov. 15 when Ronnie Few was not reappointed, previously served as interim chief in 2006.
“You learn the inner workings of the city and how the council works. When you’re a firefighter on the other end, you don’t really understand some of the business decisions of the city and why they make them,” Tate said of the experience he gained while serving as interim chief. “That kind of helped me out in that area. When the opportunity came back again, I just felt like there were a lot of things over my career that had happened to make me stronger and better prepared for this position.”
Tate said he has seen the department and fire service on the whole grow exponentially since Aubrey Randall hired him Jan. 1, 1990.
“We were a small department, had two stations at that time. We probably were around 15 guys in the department. The level of training I have seen over the years compared to when I started, school was six weeks,” Tate said. “Now school is 15 weeks. Guys are, I won’t say better, but are a little bit more educated when they get out of school. Now, we have three stations. We’re up to 24 guys in the department. When I first came in, all we knew was fires and some wreck calls, but now we have advanced up to fire, HAZMAT, EMS, wreck calls, confined space, rope rescue, river rescue, just kind of an all-hazard agency other than just fighting fires.”
Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson said Tate’s experience within the department was key in his selection by the personnel committee as the prime candidate for the job.
“His strength is, of course, being with the department this long. He knows the existing personnel and knows their strengths and their weaknesses,” Grayson said. “He knows the city. He won’t have to relearn streets or buildings or that sort of thing. With his years of experience, there comes a lot of knowledge. I think it is going to be good going forward.”
Grayson also pointed to handling of the Wednesday morning fire at Newton Tire on U.S. Highway 80 West as a microcosm of what he hopes the department will be under Tate’s watch.
“The first person I see out there other than (Demopolis Police Department Chief Tommie) Reese is Tommy Tate in full turnout gear. He is prepared. His philosophy is he will not ask a fireman to do something either he has not done in the past or he is not prepared to do now,” Grayson said. “He was out there. The training officer Jeb Bailey was out there. You had Battalion Chief Vernon Watters out there. The fire department did a first class job. I would like to think that is going to be indicative, going forward, of what we can expect out of this department.”
Tate will be tasked not only with running the department but overseeing the next wave of transition. Grayson noted Nov. 15 that he was ready for the DFRD to take a new direction. Thursday, he clarified what that new direction will not involve.
“When I said that we’re going in a new direction, I’m hearing a lot of rumors out on the street. ‘You’re going to take the department and it is going to be a volunteer fire department.’ Couldn’t be more wrong.,” Grayson said. “The second thing I’m hearing is that we’re going to cut out EMS runs. Again, totally wrong. We’re going to be better and fine tune what we do and how we do it.”
For Tate, retirement eligibility is only two years away. Still, the newly-appointed chief said he does not anticipate wanting to walk away from the department and the colleagues he has come to love.
“I really worked along with all these guys in the department. Some of them have been there 20 years or so. They’re really my friends as well as colleagues,” Tate said. “I’m 45 years old. You never know what will happen. As long as things are going well, I’ll stick it out. I really enjoy the guys I work with. There’s a great group of guys at the fire department. It is just like an extended family.”