Merkison named Clayton Fire Chief


Established: March 1, 1967

Employees: 367

Fire stations: 14

Annual budget: about $25 million

Service calls answered in 2012: 31,939

Source: CCFD website

A 21-year veteran was named Clayton County fire chief Tuesday night, ending months of speculation and division in the 367-member county fire and emergency services department.

The appointment proved to be a vindication for Landry Merkison who had been passed over several months ago as interim fire chief, angering many people in the department and the community. Commissioners Gail Hambrick and Sonna Singleton as well as vice chair Michael Edmondson voted Tuesday night for Merkison’s appointment. Chairman Jeff Turner and commissioner Shana Rooks abstained.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday, Merkison said he wanted to restore leadership and unity back to the department. He also plans to assess the financial stability of the fire services division and continue to enhance the emergency management services component of the department.

“I’m elated. This is what we wanted all along,” Battalion Chief Jay Fordham said of Merkison’s appointment.

Filling the position had been a point of contention among the five commissioners recently after Turner tried to raise the qualification standards for a number of county jobs, including fire chief. He wanted to fill the position with college graduates. That effort was squashed because it needed the approval of the full board of commissioners.

Merkison filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shortly after Fire Marshal Dwayne Jackson was named interim chief. Merkison alleged he was not selected because he is white. Jackson is black.

Merkison, who started with the Clayton County Fire & Emergency Services in 1996 and rose to assistant fire chief, was one of three finalists interviewed publicly Tuesday night at the county commission meeting, a first in the way of personnel hiring in the county.

The other finalists were East Point Fire Chief Rosemary Cloud and Riverdale Fire Chief Brenda “Nish” Willis. Each women had more than 30 years of fire services each and college degrees. Jackson was not a finalist.

Several employees from the fire department spoke on behalf of Merkison just before the finalists were interviewed.

“We have been somewhat leaderless and in a stagnant position. We’re almost like out in the ocean without a paddle,” Lt. James Slaughter III told commissioners Tuesday.

Merkison has received many awards and commendations during his years with the department. He is currently working on a bachelor’s degree in fire administration from Orange Beach, Ala.-based Columbia Southern University.