Chiefs

With more than 200 combined years of experience under their belts, these area police and fire chiefs have dedicated their lives to leadership and service. What follows are the stories of seven who have risen through the ranks and put their lives on the line for the betterment of their communities. 

By Lucy Morris  |  Photography by Matt Reiter

 



 

 



 

 

Randy Camp Catoosa county fire chief

Randy Camp

Catoosa County Fire Chief

 

CS: When did you start your service as a firefighter?

RC: I started in the summer of ’76, right out of high school. I was still trying to decide what I was going to do, and a friend of mine who was a volunteer firefighter said they needed more volunteers. I thought that sounded interesting, so I got involved. After I went on the first few fire calls, I knew that’s what I wanted to do as a career.

 

CS: Where has your career taken you?

RC: I’ve had a really blessed career. When I turned 21, I was hired by the City of Atlanta and worked there for almost 20 years. That entire time, I stayed as a volunteer firefighter in Fort Oglethorpe. My dream was always to be the chief of the Fort Oglethorpe Fire Department because I felt that position could have the biggest impact on the community. I was appointed fire chief there in 1991. After about 10 years, the Walker County commissioner approached me about their fire chief position. I saw that as a good challenge and took the job. I was there 15 years when the job back in Catoosa County opened up in 2016. Having the opportunity to come back home and be the fire chief in the county where I lived and had started originally – that’s a rarity.

 

CS: What is your favorite thing about your job?

RC: Helping people. I guess that’s what I loved about it from the start. It’s a job of service. There’s no doubt when we arrive on the scene of a fire, that person is having the worst day of their life. When we can bring something out to them – some pictures or a knife their grandfather passed down to them – it helps ease the pain, and it feels good to know you made a difference in somebody’s day.

 

CS: What’s one of your happiest memories from your days of service?

RC: Saving a life, no doubt. The first time I saved a life was when I was working in Atlanta in ‘83, and I helped another firefighter carry two people out of an apartment that was on fire. The whole team saved five people that morning. To be there and be a part of it was really rewarding. I remember that very well.

 

Why do you serve?

I just can’t imagine doing anything else. I always remind my firefighters of the Winston Churchill quote, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I think that’s absolutely true of this job.

 

 

 



 

David Roddy Chattanooga Police Chief

David Roddy

Chattanooga Police Chief

 

CS: How did you get involved in law enforcement?

DR: During my time in college at MTSU, I got to know and become friends with a lot of police officers. For a 20-year-old to see someone close in age getting up, taking care of their responsibilities, and excited to go into their job at 10 p.m. at night – to hear their stories about who they helped, how they made a difference – it looked fun. So I started the police academy in March of 1995.

 

CS: What’s the hardest part about your job?

DR: It’s understanding the difference between when you should focus your energy on being a leader and when you need to be a manager. You have a direct responsibility to make sure you’re leading, encouraging, and building rapport with your staff, but you also need to know how to run your department as a business that runs 24 hours a day, every day.

 

CS: I’m sure you’ve had days that have been really tough. How do you cope?

DR: To sum it up, the three Fs – faith, family, and fitness. Those are my mechanisms to stay grounded. It’s dedication to my faith, my family taking top priority for my energy and time, and then stress relief through physical fitness to burn off what may have built up over the week.

 

CS: What’s one of your happiest memories from your days of service?

DR: There’s an interesting dynamic in this field; it’s difficult to remember our own reflections, but we do a great job of remembering what everyone else around us has done. Sitting around and sharing those stories and seeing others remember why they became a police officer – those individual moments are the best part of this.

 

CS: What do you hope for the future of your department?

DR: Where I see the department going in the future is continuing to identify the next best practice and look for more ways to advance and better serve our community. There is a very small number of individuals in our community who drive crime and violence. It’s not everyone; it’s not an entire community or an entire block. It’s individuals who prey on others. Focusing our attention on those individuals and identifying best practices will help keep our community safe.

 

Why do you serve?

To know, that at the end of however many years you do this job, you made a difference in someone’s life when they needed help the most. I see no other career that has that much satisfaction.

 

 



 

Eric Mitchell signal mountain fire chief

Eric Mitchell

Signal Mountain Fire Chief

 

CS: How did you get involved in the fire service?

EM: I first got involved in August of 1980, when I got on the volunteer fire department in Illinois. A lot of my friends were doing it, and they encouraged me to join too. My turn as a career firefighter began in 1988. At the time, I already had a career in law enforcement, but I felt pulled toward the fire department. Their hours – 24 on, 48 off – appealed to me. So when the fire test came up I thought, I’ll take it and see how I do. I ended up passing and had to decide if I wanted to switch careers. Switching from law enforcement to firefighting was strange, and there was a transition period to get adjusted, but I never regretted it. I’ve never looked back.

 

CS: Was it always a goal of yours to be a fire chief?

EM: It was always a goal. I retired from my position as deputy chief in Illinois to take this position. I always thought and still do think today that I have something to offer the fire service and offer the community. That’s why I enjoy doing what I’m doing. I enjoy making a difference. As a chief, when something lands on your desk, you have to make the decision. And if you have good people who have done their work, it makes it easier.

 

CS: What is your favorite thing about your job?

EM: I’ve always enjoyed being around the fire station. We tell people that when they join the fire department, they’ve just joined a family. Think about it – if they’ve put in a 30-year career, 10 full years have been spent in a station. I’ve seen kids grow up and families get bigger. I enjoy watching the fire department family grow and succeed.

 

CS: I’m sure you’ve had days that have been really tough. How do you cope?

EM: One of the ways is knowing that I’ve always done the best I could to improve any problems. Also, having a good group of friends who are in the fire service and family to talk to about it is essential – just being able to talk to someone about certain things. You don’t ever forget what you’ve seen or done, but you don’t dwell it. You can’t.

 

Why do you serve?

I enjoy it so much. I enjoy public service and the atmosphere of the fire department. I’m a problem solver, and this position gives me the opportunity to play to my strengths.

 

 



 

Mark Gibson Cleveland Police Chief

Mark Gibson

Cleveland Police Chief

 

CS: What interested you about law enforcement?

MG: When I got to college and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life, I started looking at aspects of criminal justice. What interested me most was the variety of work where you had the opportunity to be involved in the community in multiple ways. It was a means of helping people and trying to make a difference in their quality of life. After college, I started my service as a police officer with the Cleveland Police Department, and I’ve been here my whole career.

 

CS: What does your day-to-day look like?

MG: The day-to-day for me now is being a liaison for administration and our officers – looking out for their needs. I’m working with city council and community leaders. There are things we can do to motivate our officers, our men and women. I’m trying to think outside the box to make our department not just good, but great.

 

CS: What’s the hardest part about your job?

MG: You feel a lot of pressure to make the best decision for the community and for the department.  You have to walk that fine line of meeting the needs for both, and sometimes they don’t need the same thing. You’re always working to find that balance, and you go home with that burden – you can’t shut it off.

 

CS: What is your favorite thing about your job?

MG: Every day is something different. You get to come in and see some of the neatest and most exciting things in the community. I’ll watch body cam footage and see the officers doing a great job. I see them complete the goals of the department and the community. That gives you fulfillment and hope for the future.

 

CS: I’m sure you’ve had days that have been really tough. How do you cope?

MG: I generally look at the big picture. If I can wake up and look at myself in the mirror knowing I’m doing the right things for the right reasons, that helps me. You spend time with your family; my wife and kids are very supportive. You focus on having a separate life. I tell every officer they need to have an identity outside of the department. I’m not the best at it, but I try.

 

Why do you serve?

I don’t think there’s any more noble profession than being a police officer. I don’t think there’s any stronger satisfaction or gratification that you can get than from helping someone, being there for someone when they need you.

 

 



 

Phil Hyman chattanooga fire chief

Phil Hyman

Chattanooga Fire Chief

 

CS: How did you get involved in the fire service?

PH: I’m a Chattanooga native. I went to Red Bank for high school and then graduated from Chattanooga State. When I graduated, I knew I wanted a hands-on job, and I also wanted to give back to the community. I knew I didn’t want an office job, but rather to put my practical skills to use, so this career made sense. I spent some time with the Red Bank Fire Department before getting hired here at the Chattanooga Fire Department in 1996.

 

CS: Was it always a goal of yours to be a fire chief?

PH: It was a natural progression. I spent the majority of my career in the field, working through various positions. Different opportunities allowed me to work my way up through the ranks to become chief. As with every position, it can be daunting at first, but I take it as a challenge and as a learning experience.

 

CS: I’m sure you’ve had days that have been really tough. How do you cope?

PH: Fortunately, we have recently created a peer support team that addresses those types of issues, and it’s available to all firefighters on those difficult days. Those adverse days really build character and make us stronger. You try to find something optimistic in them. Even though they’re horrible, something positive needs to come out of them. With this support team, we’re talking about mental health, PTSD, and more. You can’t un-see things, and we really need to protect these individuals. I take great responsibility for protecting our firefighters.

 

CS: What do you hope for the future of your department?

PH: I’m extremely proud of our department, of the job our men and women do. I appreciate their spirit and their passion for this job. It’s the best job in the world in my eyes and in theirs. I’d put us up against any department in the country. My goal is that we always get better and compound on all the good we have. Lead, serve, train – our mission statement speaks volumes.

 

Why do you serve?

From a personal standpoint, it gives me satisfaction in my heart that we’re doing the right thing for the community. On a bigger level, it’s guiding that ship. It’s more important to talk about the whole. Being able to influence all the firefighters here to think the same way – I think that’s even more important than the personal reason I do it.

 

 



 

Mike Williams signal mountain police chief

Mike Williams

Signal Mountain Police Chief

 

CS: When did you start your service as a police officer?

MW: My career began 46 years ago. We had a crossing guard in elementary school who would let us sit in the car and listen to the radio. He talked to us about law enforcement in general. I wasn’t more than 7 or 8 years old, but that’s what first got me interested. Then my aunt was one of the first dispatchers for the Soddy-Daisy Police Department, and I used to sit up there and listen to the radio and watch the officers come and go. As soon as I was old enough, I started to pursue a career in law enforcement myself. I worked for the Sheriff’s Department, the Red Bank Police Department, and then spent 29 years with the Chattanooga Police Department.

 

CS: When did you become police chief?

MW: I retired from the Chattanooga Police Department in 2011. I stayed retired for about three years but missed it very much. When this position came open, I was fortunate enough to get it, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. January marks five years.

 

CS: What does it mean to serve your community as a police officer?

MW: It’s a calling and a career, not just a job. The officers who are best at it and stay with it the longest treat it as a calling. You’re not going to get rich doing it financially, and you’re going to pay an emotional price in the long term, but the good you can do for the community and the help you can provide in crises is all worth it in the end.

 

CS: What do you hope for the future of your department?

MW: I’m trying to put into place the future leaders of the department who will be able to carry it forward when I leave. We put a lot of emphasis on leadership training for all of our officers so that they are capable of stepping up and leading when they need to. I encourage our officers to get involved in the process and learn to make tough decisions under some very trying circumstances.

 

Why do you serve?

I have always wanted to be the person that steps in and helps defend others who are not capable of defending or protecting themselves against wrongdoing. I just have always enjoyed and felt like it was my calling to protect and serve, to take care of those who can’t defend themselves.

 

 



 

Ron Harrison cleveland fire chief

Ron Harrison

Cleveland Fire Chief

 

CS: When did you start your service as a firefighter?

RH: I started here at the Cleveland Fire Department in 1995, and I’ve spent my entire fire service career here. I’m homegrown.

 

CS: What interested you in the field?

RH: I actually chose another career, nursing, and I was working in that field in the beginning. But when the Cleveland Fire Department starting testing candidates for the first time – and it was a very competitive application process – that interested me. So I went through the process but did not get hired. A couple of years later, I went through the process again, and again didn’t get hired. In 1995, I did get hired, and I’ve worked my way up through the ranks ever since.

 

CS: I’m sure you’ve had days that have been really tough. How do you cope?

RH: You know, the city manager who hired me originally gave me a little tidbit of advice that I found incredibly valuable. She told me, “There are times when if you focus on the entirety of the task, you’ll become overwhelmed. Look at what’s in front of you. Take care of what’s in front of you and lose focus just briefly of the task in its entirety.” It sounds simple, but it’s hard to do.

 

CS: What’s one of your happiest memories from your days of service?

RH: I have incredible memories. You work with a team that becomes a family. I’ve seen children grow up, go to college, and get married. It really is an extended family. I have hundreds, if not thousands, of excellent memories.

 

CS: What do you hope for the future of your department?

RH: We have this philosophy that we’ve talked about since day one. We acknowledge our strengths and acknowledge that we’re very proud of who we are today. We also acknowledge that we’re not perfect, but we’d like to be. So we will continue to work toward perfection, realizing we’ll never get there. We set our satchel on continuous improvement. We’re proud of where we are today, but come back next year and see us. We’ll be better.

 

Why do you serve?

It goes back to that basic point in all our missions: to get to you quickly, with the proper training, the proper equipment, to make the worst day of your life better. The problem won’t go away – we didn’t make it go away – but we made it better. CS

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