Watts accepts role as fire chief

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 23, 2005

Newly-named permanent Brookhaven Fire Chief Bob Watts saysfirefighter training, education and other efforts to improve thedepartment will be his goals as he leads the emergency servicesagency in the years to come.

Watts, named interim chief in February following former ChiefPaul Cartwright’s retirement, was appointed to the permanentposition during last week’s board of aldermen meeting. Watts, 59,said he is glad to have the interim title removed.

“I appreciate the confidence the mayor and board put in me,”Watts said.

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City officials cited Watts’ over 30 years experience, dedicationand dependability in choosing him for the $42,308 a year post.

“He’s a good manager and he’s anxious to get our men in thedepartment more education and training,” said Mayor BobMassengill.

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron said there is “great potential”for the department under Watts’ leadership. He said Watts has donea good job so far and there has been improvement in the workingrelationships in the department.

“We’re placing our confidence in him that he will continue to doa good job as chief,” Cameron said.

After four years as a fireman in the Air Force, Watts joined theBrookhaven Fire Department in 1970. He was promoted to shiftcaptain in 1980 and to assistant chief in 2003 upon formerAssistant Chief Moses Bell’s retirement.

“I’ve always enjoyed the job,” Watts said. “It’s never been aburden for me to come to work. It’s been my life.”

Watts and his wife Nan have three children: Reuben, 28; ReneeMoak, 25; and Rochelle, 23.

As chief, Watts echoed Massengill’s desire to have theBrookhaven Fire Department be one of the best in the area and inthe state.

“I’m willing to work hard toward that and I think most of themen want to see that,” Watts said. “A lot of them take pride inbeing a firefighter.”

Watts discussed some of his plans to improve the department.

“Training and physical fitness will be a big part of thisdepartment,” Watts said. “It’s already started and it’s going toincrease.”

Watts mentioned that every shift participates in at least onehour of physical training at King’s Daughters Physical Therapy.Hospital officials recently made the services available to cityfire and police department personnel.

Educational opportunities are also on the agenda.

“There is a lot of free training available,” said Watts,mentioning six firefighters in Meridian for training in emergencyresponse to train accidents.

Several firefighters have already completed the course. Wattsplans to get other kinds of training for other officers andfirefighters whenever possible.

“Any kind of training we can participate in, we’re going topursue,” Watts said.

In organizational matters, Watts is expected to recommend apermanent assistant chief at the next board meeting.

Capt. Fred Smith was named interim chief when Watts was promotedto interim chief. Watts touted a good working relationship withSmith during the transition period.

“I couldn’t ask for anyone to support me more than he has,”Watts said of Smith.

Watts also hopes to work with city officials on implementingaspects of a fire department assessment recently completed byformer Atlanta, Ga., fire chief Winston Minor. Parts on theassessment include strategic planning, standard operatingprocedures for the department, community-based services, additionaluse of technology and seeking more grants for equipment needs.

“We’re already pursuing some of it,” Watts said. “Most of it arethings I fully agree we should be doing.”

With the matter pending in court, Watts likely will beoverseeing the department during annexation.

Watts said the biggest difficulty will be having available waterin some of the remote newly-annexed areas. However, he said many ofthe annexation-related concerns have been addressed with planningfor additional manpower and equipment.

“I think we’ll see it happen,” Watts said about the pendingexpansion. “The city is ready to move.”

Including himself and Smith, Watts oversees a 35-memberdepartment.

Watts said he has known many of the firefighters all theirlives. As chief, he hopes to keep the respect of the men andcontinue to try and improve the fire department.

“There are a lot of good things about the fire department,”Watts said. “There are a lot of good men here.”