The Valdosta Daily Times
The City of Valdosta announced Tuesday its first new fire chief in nearly 20 years.
Freddie Broome will be Valdosta's new fire chief. Broome is the assistant fire chief in the City of Winston-Salem, N.C., and he has served in the Winston-Salem Fire Department since 1996.
Valdosta Fire Chief J.D. Rice officially retired at the end of the year, but will continue to serve as chief until March 10, which is when Broome will take the reins as Valdosta's ninth fire chief since 1903. Rice became fire chief in 1995.
“When Chief Rice told us he was retiring we were very sad about that, but this day, today, is one we're all going to look back on and declare it a great day in Valdosta because with a nationwide search like Mr. Hanson and his committee has done, we feel like we've found the best possible candidate for fire chief in Valdosta,” Mayor John Gayle said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “We do welcome Chief Freddie Broom to Valdosta, and we look forward to serving him.”
The City of Valdosta received nearly 60 applications from 20 states for the fire chief position, so the process to select a new fire chief was not taken lightly by the city. They enlisted help from the the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
“They have a program where they assist in fire chief recruitment and selection,” City Manager Larry Hanson said. “So once we received the 60 applicants, I reviewed them as did a team from the CVIOG, that included a retired fire chief and Dr. Mark Foster who works at the university.”
Hanson explained how the field of applicants was narrowed to 11 candidates and how he conducted phone interviews with those candidates. From the interviews, he narrowed the search to six. These six candidates were assessed by six fire chiefs from Georgia and Florida during an entire day of exercises and interviews.
“So they put them through various exercises, written exercises, oral exercises, and scenarios like budget scenarios, personnel scenarios, and they then evaluated those candidates based on their perception, their judgment, their decisiveness, their oral communication, their written communication, their leadership, and their organizational planning,” Hanson said. “And as part of that day-long effort, I also interview those six
candidates a second time. So once the assessments and interviews were completed that day, the chiefs gathered with me and reviewed their findings, and it was determined, unanimously, that Chief Broome scored the highest of all the candidates.”
Additional factors included Broome's educational and career experiences. Broome earned an associate of applied science in fire protection technology, a bachelor of science degree in engineering technology with a concentration in fire safety from the UNC at Charlotte, and a master of public administration degree with a concentration in public management from Appalachian State University.
“He's been over operations, over training, he's managed budgets, he's been part of their recruitment process, he's really touched all of the important areas of being a manager of a department,” Hanson said about Broome's on-the-job experience.
Annually, Winston-Salem receives 27,000 service calls, whereas Valdosta receives 3,500, Hanson said.
Former Valdosta Fire Chief Dewey Foster purchased a small hook and ladder truck when he was the fire chief in the 1960s, and this truck has been passed on ever since, so Rice passed it Tuesday to Broome.
“So for the past 17 years, the hook and ladder has been in my office and I felt that it was appropriate for me to pass it on to Chief Broome, and VFD is very rich in tradition,” Rice said. “And I always referred back to this hook and ladder truck to keep me grounded and focused, so Chief Broome, on behalf of the men and women in the Valdosta Fire Department, I would like you to accept this as a small token of our brotherhood as fire chiefs of the City of Valdosta.”
Broome gave a quick statement during the press conference saying, “I'm excited to be here and I am blessed to be a part of the Valdosta community, and to work with Chief Rice to build on his department and what he has already established. I am excited to be a part of the community of Valdosta and I'm ready to start establishing and building those relationships.”
Establishing and building relationships is Broome's first goal as fire chief. He said he is giving himself a 90-day period to get to know his department, the city's staff, the community, and the state codes before he makes any changes to the fire department.
“I don't want to make any changes until I know how the department is ran and how the community is,” Broome said. “I feel that I cannot effectively lead the department, if I don't know the department, and I need to learn the community because I can't lead a community if I don't know the community.”
Similar to the ones before him, Broome plans to be more than a fire chief in Valdosta. He has been active in the Winston-Salem community and he aims to be a leader in the Valdosta community, too.
“I read a lot of theories and philosophies, one by Gandhi says you must be the change that you want to see in the world, and I've always been one to personalize philosophies, and I take it and use it professionally, that I have to be the leader I want to see in the world,” Broome said.
"When I go into the communities, I want to be the leader in the communities, so I've always used that, and I have always modified it to fit me, and now that I've been selected as fire chief that doesn't mean that my education and my training and everything ceases because I always believed that you've got to continue to educate yourself, so I will continue to do that, and that goes back to that same philosophy. So if I want to be an educated fire chief, then I've got to continue to be an educated fire chief and continue to be that person."