Cochran Bids Adieu to Fire Academy

June 18, 2010
Just 10 months into his tenure as the nation's fire chief, Kelvin Cochran is returning to the helm of the Atlanta Fire Department.
EMMITSBURG, Md. -- U.S. Fire Administrator Kelvin Cochran graciously posed for pictures, shook hands and received a few hugs Thursday as he bid adieu to staff and students on the campus of the National Fire Academy.

"It was bittersweet," he said while sitting in his office.

Just 10 months into his tenure as the nation's fire chief, Cochran is returning to the helm of the Atlanta Fire Department.

He will be back in Atlanta on Monday, and expects no problems with confirmation by the city council.

"I had intended to stay here throughout the Obama presidency whether it was one or two terms," he said. "However, this opportunity was available."

Cochran said he is looking forward to returning to his former position and the challenges ahead of him. However, he said Mayor Kasim Reed "is a tremendous supporter of the fire service."

"The brownouts have ended. They are adding firefighters, and we are about to open a new station, Station 11."

He admits that some feel that he abandoned them for greener pastures, but he says that wasn't the case. "I only had a few months left on my job. I was going to be out of work. I had a family." Cochran said his wife, a registered nurse, and children have been overly supportive of his decision to pack up and move them here.

"They sacrificed a lot. I know that."

And, they're very excited to be heading south again, he said with a laugh.

The administrator said he enjoyed leading the USFA, and praised the staff for their commitment to the mission.

"These are some of the most dedicated people I've ever worked with. I am confident that they will carry on with the initiatives."

After a meeting with management Thursday morning, Cochran had lunch in the dining hall where he continually greeted and chatted with workers and others.

More than once, he put down his fork and stood up to have his picture taken with a student. His smile couldn't be missed.

He thanked cafeteria workers as he left with another student for a photo op.

The man, who first wanted to be a firefighter as a five-year-old after he saw crews in action in his hometown of Shreveport, La. realized that dream and rose through the ranks to take over as chief.

He stayed there until he was tapped to head the Atlanta Fire Department.

Later, while sitting in his office for one of the last times, Cochran said he was elated that Obama allowed the USFA to get involved in the home sprinkler debate.

"This was a first," he said proudly. "We were allowed to attend the ICC hearings and testify. We were part of the process that will help save the lives of firefighters and civilians."

Cochran said being an active participant spoke volumes. "It shows the commitment of Obama to the USFA and the nation's fire service"

He added that his successors will enjoy that support as they strive to continue with the initiatives he established early on in his tenure.

They include enhancing emergency preparedness and response, increasing the capabilities of the National Fire Incident Reporting System, professional development of USFA and fire service personnel, enhancing EMS, and upgrading the facilities on campus that include a new dormitory and additional classroom spaces and renovations to the cafeteria.

"We can't do these things alone. That's why it's important we have the support of our stakeholders. We need the fire service organizations for these to be accomplished."

Cochran said he didn't prioritize the initiatives, saying they are all important. Unlike some of his predecessors, staff members say Cochran was giving fire prevention additional focus.

He said the effort should be pushed as it saves not only civilian lives, but reduces the number of firefighter injuries and deaths.

Cochran spent the afternoon visiting offices, thanking people for their friendship and the work they do for the nation's fire service.

He joked that his photograph that hung in the main hallway at the USFA will probably come down Friday.

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