Few supporters to approach council

A group of citizens who oppose the recent termination of Demopolis Fire Chief Ronnie Few plan to attend the City Council’s Dec. 4 meeting, and are taking appropriate steps to be placed on the agenda.

At a public meeting held Thursday night at Christian Chapel Baptist Church, the group heard Few share his perspective, and also heard from Few’s recently retired Assistant Chief Carl Johnson.

“This man deserves his job back,” Johnson told the crowd of more than 150. “I’m here tonight not only because I like the man – that’s a plus. I’m here because he taught me how to treat people fairly and he made this department better.”

Johnson said Few brought a higher level of skill and best practices to the department. “He showed me skills I’d read in a book but had never got to practice. I learned a tremendous amount from him.”

Few, who spoke before Johnson, shared several ways he believes he improved the fire department’s overall performance. He mentioned firefighter safety as his top priority, and added that he transformed the department from one that “ran fire calls” into a full-service department.

Few said when he arrived, the department was averaging just over 200 calls a year, which has increased to more than 800 with the expansion of the department’s role into one of emergency service.

He said he implemented an aggressive smoke detector program for new construction in the city, and also a fire education program in the schools that he said has helped reduce the number of fire calls.

“And we did it with no addition to the budget,” Few said. “In fact, we were asked to give 15 percent back.”

Few mentioned some of the criticisms he said have been leveled against him, and responded to each. He said he has been criticized for not personally responding to calls, but said he sees his role as ensuring firefighter safety, “not chasing fire trucks.” He added that he wanted his captains to feel that they can take charge at the scene.

Few said some people believe the city does not need three fire stations, but added that the third station (on U.S. 80 East) was already in the planning stages when he arrived. “There was a foundation already laid out there, and the project was over budget. We finished it, and we did it under budget,” he said.

The former Chief said he occasionally heard that some firefighters were disgruntled, but added that he held an annual “Ask the Chief Day”, in which any firefighter could come to him and share any concerns. Few said he chose not to get directly involved in every personnel issue, but preferred to utilize the chain of management for disciplinary matters.

“My leadership style may be a little different, but I made sure the firefighters were trained and ready,” he said. “I want you to know I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m asking you – don’t let this happen to another individual in this city.”

The City Council voted 4-2 not to re-appoint Few earlier this month.

Thursday’s gathering stemmed from a Nov. 20 meeting at which Mayor Mike Grayson addressed a group of concerned citizens. A spokesperson for that group, former council member Thomas Moore, said the mayor’s answers were not satisfactory, which he said necessitated Thursday’s meeting.

Grayson said after the Nov. 20 meeting that he was not at liberty to share the specifics behind the council’s decision, citing the confidential nature of personnel matters.