Mt. Juliet officials narrowed a pool of 45 fire chief applicants to five with interviews scheduled this week.
The quest to hire a fire chief for the new Mt. Juliet Fire Department is at its pinnacle with the cream-of-the-crop slated to be interviewed by a team of experts in the coming days. None are from out of state and two of the applicants live in Mt. Juliet.
"All have replied that they want to be interviewed," said Public Safety Director Andy Garrett. "The interviews will take place within a week to 10 days, and a conditional offer of employment shortly thereafter, pending passing [human resources] requirements."
Nearly four-dozen applicants sent resume to Mt. Juliet with hopes to be its first fire chief. The city's long protracted effort to start its own fire department is nearly a decade in the making with the final decision to partner with Wilson Emergency Management Agency in the initial effort.
According to Garrett, the five finalists are Michael Baltz of Mt. Juliet; John Bonson of Thompson Station; Mike Culberson of Franklin; Erron Kinney of Franklin; and James Luffman of Mt. Juliet.
Garrett said multiple attributes are sought in the optimum candidate.
"There were more than just three things [we were looking for], " said Garrett. "One was supervision, two was training certification, three was their history of progress through the ranks and also community service. There were a lot of factors that were taken into consideration for these candidates, so we did not concentrate on just one or two."
Garrett said it was "very hard to narrow the pool down, and as you can see we still have a way to go before we pick the right person."
Garrett "interaction with the interview committee" will be another trait to be considered
That committee will be human resources director Jill Johnson, recorder Sheila Luckett, Garrett, City Manager Kenny Martin and a current fire chief who has not been named.
According to the applications requested by Mt. Juliet News, Baltz works at the Nashville Fire Department and is a paramedic and Interim Supervisor. Bonson is currently a fire service instructor for the State of Tennessee Fire Academy. Culberson is the deputy fire chief for the City of Franklin Fire Department. Kinney is the Fire and Rescue Services county coordinator for the Williamson County Office of Public Safety. And, Luffman is a Wilson Emergency Management Agency veteran firefighter.
"I'm extremely excited about the entire list of candidates and the top five candidates," said Martin. "I think the candidate pool and level of expertise speaks volumes about our community and the interest level in becoming part of our community. This is an exciting and important time for our great city and I'm honored and excited to be part of the selection process."
Martin said the ideal candidate will need "much more than just experience."
"The interview panel will be studying every possible angle to make sure the right candidate is selected," he said. "We want this to be a perfect fit for our city, the candidate, and the candidate's family in every way possible."
He said "happiness, commitment, dedication, ownership, stewardship and enthusiasm and vision are just a few of the things important in the selection process."
Martin said his desire for the new fire department "is to get it right from day one".
He said looking at the study on fire departments, the city has learned what has worked and not worked with other departments.
"That should help us avoid many pitfalls, while also taking advantage of what works best, and best practices," he said. "This should improve efficiencies from day one, thus having city/citizen resources than can be used to go toward Station Two and other city needs."
Garrett said the first duties after hiring the fire chief will be to oversee the completion of the fire station, creating job descriptions and hiring of additional personnel.
"Add in assisting me in purchasing needed equipment, writing Standard Operation Guidelines, shift hours and policy. Our plate will be full," he said.
Garrett was the Mt. Juliet police chief before being promoted to PSD. Since that promotion, he's attended the Fire Chief Orientation "Complete Series" at the State Fire Academy. He said he has done a lot of research on fire service, equipment, law, cost and more.
"Basically, I am learning a new side of my position," he said. "I am excited to be a part of the Mt. Juliet Fire Department and see an active future for both fire and police. The number one goal of both is customer care for our citizens, allowing them to have the quality of life they expect and feel safe. I can see both departments being involved with community outreach."
The site-work for the fire station off Belinda Parkway is nearly complete with several snags and more money than expected to prepare the site because of an underwater stream circumventing progress, as well as bad soil and utility lines thwarting progress.