Chattanooga Gets First Black Fire Chief

Wendell Rowe has been appointed by Mayor Ron Littlefield as Chattanooga's first black fire chief.

Randy Parker, who had also been in contention for chief, will be deputy chief. He has been a fire captain since 1989 and with the city since 1978.

Mayor Littlefield introduced the new chief to the City Council at a special session on Friday afternoon.

He replaces Chief Jim Coppinger, who is retiring at age 50 after 28 years with the department. His last day was today.

Mayor Littlefield said, "I am delighted that Wendell Rowe has agreed to serve as fire chief for the city of Chattanooga. He is a seasoned veteran who is eminently qualified to take on this important role and will lead the city's fire department with great professionalism and skill."

He added, "I think it's a great opportunity for this city to move forward in a positive direction."

Councilman John "Duke" Franklin called Chief Rowe "an excellent individual both as an individual and as a firefighter."

Councilman Yusuf Hakeem said, "Both (Rowe and Parker) are up for the job to say the very least. Both are in very good standing."

Councilman Jack Benson said he had misgivings about bringing an individual back from retirement, saying it set a bad precedent. But he said he had interviewed Mr. Rowe and was impressed with his credentials and his responses to him.

The new chief said he had left the department over a policy difference at a time when he said there was a major exodus from the department.

Prior to his retirement at the end of 2001, Mr. Rowe had been a member of the Chattanooga Fire Department for nearly 27 years. He ended his career as a fire captain and station coordinator.

He worked in the Littlefield mayoral campaign, while Chief Coppinger was a supporter of Ann Coulter.

Mr. Rowe is a Chattanooga native and graduated from Howard High School in 1971. In 1996, he graduated from Chattanooga State with an associate's degree in fire science. He then pursued a bachelor of science degree at UTC and graduated in 1998 with a degree in political science. He gained a master's degree in public administration from UTC in 2000.

Since his retirement from the fire department, Mr. Rowe has been involved at Chattanooga State in the fire sciences program. He has also served as a paramedic at Memorial Hospital for several years.

He said, "It is a tremendous honor to have been asked to serve the mayor and the citizens of Chattanooga in this important way. I have devoted my life to emergency services and working with our great department to protect our city and look forward to continuing to serve in such an important and fulfilling way."

Mayor Littlefield said, "I am excited about the leadership team being put in place and am confident that they will take the department to new levels while continuing the proud tradition of protecting and serving our community."

He said issues about the pension of the new fire chief will be worked out by the Pension Board.