Fire Chief Interview: FIRE CHIEF CHARLES HOOD San Antonio, TX, Fire Department

Firehouse: You recently gave a “state of the department” address. How did that come about?   Hood: As you are well aware, communication within any organization can be a challenge, especially in a large metropolitan fire department. We have...


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One of the main priorities of any fire chief is to manage response times. Our new CAD system has reduced our emergency medical service time one minute and 28 seconds and our fire response time one minute and seven seconds from our old mainframe system. That’s pretty impressive. The SAFD was also recently awarded a grant to build an LTE (Long Term Evolution) network as a pilot project.

 

Firehouse: What are the top three priorities for the department?

 

Hood: The top three priorities of our department are safety, training and customer service. When I arrived here, I had several areas of focus that were developed to assist me in analyzing the department holistically. This year, I identified four additional areas to enhance our ability to take care of our customers both internal and external.

The first was to implement a major reorganization of the department. Second was to improve all communications throughout the department. We had a good start with the “state of the department” address. Third is to analyze and modify all training within the SAFD. This year, will begin to train all our cadets in Emergency Medical Technology (EMT) and implement an internal EMT refresher training. Fourth is to develop a succession plan and create mentoring opportunities for all of our members.

 

Firehouse: Has quarterly training with battalion chiefs using tabletop exercises helped in running fireground operations?

 

Hood: Who says we don’t fight fires anymore? Last year, we had 34 multiple-alarm fires, including a four alarm that began in a historic two-story building and quickly spread to an exposure that happened to be a 21-story high-rise with working fires on the fifth and seventh floors. We utilized 70 pieces of equipment and 216 personnel without a single injury.

Prior to this incident, we had simulated on multiple-alarm incidents and had discussed collapse zones; on this particular night, we had a total collapse of the Alpha and Delta walls without injury or damage of vehicles. Battalion training is a critical component in providing safe fireground operations.

 

Firehouse: What is happening with technical rescue and hazardous material response?

 

Hood: Last year, we opened new Fire Station 51, which added our second Technical Rescue Team. Our hazardous material response has been enhanced by the addition of a second Haz Mat Team located on the northwest side of our city at Fire Station 34. We have also added our eighth battalion district to improve our span of control and manage all of our Special Operations responses.

 

Firehouse: I understand you are the city’s first fire chief to come from outside the department. You apparently said it is your goal that this is the last time a fire chief comes from the outside. How do you plan for that?

 

Hood: Since 1854, the City of San Antonio had never hired from the outside. I am so very proud to be the first outside fire chief in the history of one of the oldest metropolitan fire departments in the country. But if there are not multiple qualified candidates who are capable of being the next San Antonio fire chief, then I have failed in one of my areas of focus. It would be very disappointing!

 

Firehouse: As fire chief, are you easy to talk to and accessible?

 

Hood: Very! Since the day I arrived in San Antonio, I have had an open-door policy with all of my members both sworn and civilian. Situational awareness was critical in developing firsthand knowledge of the challenges that my personnel faced and understanding from their perspective how to fix things.

I learned a long time ago as a busy engine captain that building strong relationships with my personnel is a critical component in providing great internal customer service. Our firefighters, paramedics and civilian employees are expected to provide stellar customer service to our citizens, some of whom may be having the worst day of their life. Customer service begins with me. It is my belief that you must lead by example. n

 

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