New DeKalb fire chief pledges long tenure

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New DeKalb fire chief pledges long tenure

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APRIL HUNT / AHUNT@AJC.COM
“I think it’s important the person in leadership, in the position to influence service, shows they will receive that same service,” DeKalb's new fire chief, Darnell Fullum, says.

Name: Darnell Fullum

Age: 49

Family: Wife, Kim. Son, Cameron, 12.

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Shorter University.

Experience: U.S. Army, 1983 - 1986; Fulton County Fire Department, 1987 to present, served as deputy fire chief since 2008.

There is no residency requirement for DeKalb County’s new fire chief Darnell Fullum, but he is in the market for a home there anyway.

Monday morning, Interim CEO Lee May cited Fullum’s 26 years of steadily climbing the ranks in Fulton’s fire department as signs he has the commitment needed to lead the fire and rescue department in Georgia’s third-largest county.

And moments after May announced Monday that Fullum will take over the chief’s role in the next 30 days at an $138,684 salary, Fullum explained why he will move his wife and young son to DeKalb.

“I think it’s important the person in leadership, in the position to influence service, shows they will receive that same service,” Fullum said. “I’m committed to deliver and enjoy the service this community needs and deserves.”

The promise of leadership to serve over the long haul is especially welcome in DeKalb, which is struggling to right itself after a scandal-ridden year.

Even before suspended CEO Burrell Ellis was indicted last summer on 14 felony charges related to political corruption, DeKalb was hampered by a carousel of leadership since at least 2009.

In that time, the county saw three chief operating officers, three planning directors, four police chiefs and two public safety directors.

Officially, finding a candidate to replace the recently retired Eddie O’Brien, a 25-year veteran of the department, focused on candidates with at least 15 years’ experience and knowledge of how to run a $60 million department that handles nearly 100,000 calls every year.

But May – a county commissioner serving in the county’s top elected job only until the case against Ellis is settled – said DeKalb’s leadership vacuum was on his mind when making his selection.

“He will be here for the long-term,” May said. “If we are serious about making public safety a priority, and I am, then we have to consider that as an important factor for the entire community.”

Some firefighters had expressed worry about the career trajectory of the other finalist for the job, Teresa Everett. She would have been the county’s first female chief but also had a resume with several short stints at various fire departments before becoming chief in Gary, Ind. last year.

She and Fullum both drew praise from residents and firefighters who attended forums late last year, where they took questions and laid out their priorities.

But the need for stability trumped most other concerns from taxpayers. The county fire department is understaffed – with 649 firefighters on a force authorized for 715 jobs – and just completing a transition to use private ambulances for medical transport.

“It adds credibility that he commits to staying, becauase it means he’s going to be here to see us through big changes,” said Deputy Fire Chief Norman Augustin, a 17-year department veteran who has been serving as acting chief.

Among the first tasks ahead: promoting to round out leadership jobs, such as battalion commanders and assistant chiefs. Many of those jobs are now filled on a temporary basis and require the chief’s action to become permanent.

Fullum has pledged to meet with every firefighter at the county’s 26 stations. That means 78 visits to meet all three crews that work around the clock. He also said he will lay out a more clear promotion process for the department, a common sore point among some firefighters.

But despite the smiles and praise for his goals, little captured as much passion as Fullum’s new housing hunt.

“Here we have a person receiving a salary from DeKalb who is going to be putting that money back in the county, contributing to the tax base, shopping in DeKalb, putting a child in our school system,” said Capt. Tremayne McMurray, a 16-year veteran who lives in the county. “That speaks volumes to firefighters and to citizens.”

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