Soon after Kelvin Cochran was nominated as chief of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department in November 2007, the city was in the grips of a budget crisis, forcing him to make a series of cuts, including closing two fire stations.
City leaders believe Cochran's management of the department under those circumstances drew notice in the White House. President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that Cochran as his choice as U.S. Fire Administrator.
"Maybe that's why they noticed him. He was cool under pressure," said City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow, chair of the council's public safety committee.
The administrator post is among the highest-ranking positions a Georgian has been nominated for under the Obama administration. Cochran, 49, previously worked as fire chief in his hometown, Shreveport, La.
"It is remarkable to think that my childhood dream of being a firefighter has taken me from the front porch of a shotgun house in Shreveport, Louisiana, to becoming the head of the United States Fire Administration," Cochran said in a statement.
Atlanta Fire Rescue Lt. Jim Daws, head of the city's firefighter union, said Cochran must go through U.S. Senate confirmation hearings and, if approved, would likely leave the city by October. Council members expect an acting chief to be named afterward.
City officials declined comment on the nomination Tuesday, directing questions to the White House.
As U.S. Fire Administrator, Cochran would be charged with overseeing, coordinating and directing national efforts to prevent fires and improve fire response. Cochran would also lead fire prevention and safety education programs and professional development opportunities for emergency responders.
"Working closely with our state and local partners, Kelvin will lead our nationwide efforts to prepare for and respond to fire emergencies," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
Since fiscal year 2008, the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department's budget has dropped from $74.7 million to $64.2 million for the 12-month budget period that began July 1.
Some of Cochran's moves were controversial, such as closing Fire Station 7 in west Atlanta in July 2008. Fire Station 23, located on Howell Mill Road in north Atlanta, was closed in December but will be reopened later this week. He also ordered brownouts, temporarily closing fire stations when staffing was low.
Daws credited Cochran with "mitigating the damage" of working with a smaller budget.
"He was handed a bad deck of cards," Councilman C.T. Martin said. "But he handled it well."
Said Winslow, half-joking, "Hopefully, [Cochran] will get us some [federal] stimulus money."
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