Tenn. Chief's Bombshell at Memorial Service: 'I'm Done...'

At the end of the department's annual memorial service, Dyersburg, Tenn. Fire Chief Bob Veal dropped a bombshell.

He was quitting -- immediately. Standing at the podium in his Class A uniform, the veteran firefighter unpinned his badge, walked over and handed it to the mayor.

Veal had been under fire from the IAFF for his plan to eliminate battalion chiefs.

His proposal was spelled out in a full page ad in the Dyersburg Gazette.

"It's been a good ceremony, it has been a good day, but if you don't mind, mayor (John Holden), I'm going to say some things.

"I'm gonna, I'm going to retire.

"I'm fixing to step down because this department needs a breath of fresh air," Veal said as he removed his dress coat and placed it next to the podium.

"When I hired into this department in 1975, I would look forward to coming to work. I would look forward to working with men just like these right here," said Veal pointing to the firefighters in the crowd.

"Yeah, we would sit around the table and complain just like you all do. We did that but that's as far as it went because I had officers that would stand up and plant our feet and direct us in the paths that we should go. Not the way we wanted to go but the way we should go.

"This department needs leaders, not officers, not lieutenants, not battalion chiefs, not chiefs. They need leaders. Someone to reach out and say 'look, guys, this is the way we're supposed to do this.'

"I don't want to say something that hurts someone's feelings," said Veal as he walked over and handed his badge to Holden. "But I quit. Right there, he's got it. I don't want to violate anyone's civil rights.

"I'm going to tell it like it is. I don't care if you like it or not. This is Bob Veal talking now. I've been quiet for 11 years because I didn't want to bother anyone. I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I didn't want anyone to go to the mayor and board.

"I didn't want anyone to sue me. Well sue me! Sue Bob Veal! I don't care.

"This department has gone south the last three or four years and it's a shame because there are outstanding firemen in this department. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. You are good men. You deserve better than what you have.

"We need leaders to plant their feet. We need leaders to plant their feet and lead into the future.

"I'm going to tell you something, lieutenants, and they're not all here but they ought to be. You need to plant your feet and you need to act like men.

"I submitted five or six names to the mayor three or four months ago and I said 'mayor, these guys would make good fire chiefs'. And I see their picture in the front page of the paper at a board meeting because the fire chief wants to change something.

"The fire chief is allowed to change something. If he wants to change it, it can be changed. That's the way it is. It's not the way you want it, that's the way the chief wants it. My suggestion is if you don't like change find yourself something else to do. Because the fire service deserves better than what you're giving it right now.

"Now I'm out of the way, brother. I don't want to see you hurt. There's going to be a breath of fresh air coming through. Boys, get a head on your shoulders. Look to someone that can lead you in the right direction.

"When I took this job, Billy Taylor come to me in January 2002 and he said 'I'm going to retire and I'm going to recommend you to be fire chief.'

"And I said 'wait just a minute. I need to talk to my wife and I need to talk to my savior because they make the decisions, not me.'

"I talked to her and we started praying about it. And on March 7, 2002 I made fire chief. Since that time I've had to keep my mouth shut, I could not say what's on my mind and I ain't wound like that. I'm sorry, mayor, I'm not wound like that. I can't do it no more.

"Me and her have been praying since January of this year about my retirement. You just seen me give the mayor my badge. My retirement is effective today.

"After much prayer from me and my wife, because again I say, her and my savior are the only ones that make my decisions, what am I going to do? I don't know and I don't care. They're going to take care of me. I ain't worried about it.

"Like that man sang a little while ago, my chains are gone and I've been set free, my brother. Thank you for a good ride. Thank you, mayor. That man stood behind me every time there was a problem. If any of you think he'll back up, you're wrong.

"My suggestion, boys, is find yourself somebody that can lead you not in the wrong direction but in the right direction. You have got it made here, boys. This is the best job there is in Dyer County. The best job in Dyer County.

"Go over there and pour you some concrete," he said pointing to the construction going on for the city's safe-room building. "They've been out there since 6:30 this morning pouring concrete and I've done that before, too, and it ain't easy.

"Thank you for the ride. Thank you, Chief White for what you mean to me. Thank you, mayor, for what you've done. I'm done, brother."