Tybee Island's new fire chief Jeremy Kendrick said 'taking care of the people' is his goal

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Credit: Courtesy of City of Tybee Island

Credit: Courtesy of City of Tybee Island

ajc.com

Credit: Courtesy of City of Tybee Island

Credit: Courtesy of City of Tybee Island

Tybee Island Fire Department's (TIFD) new fire chief, Jeremy Kendrick, kicked off his first day on the job on Monday. The department was without a chief for nearly half a year after the previous head, Matt Harrell, resigned in June amid sexual harassment and bullying allegations. Kendrick, a Georgia native with 25 years experience under his belt, said his goal is to "uplift the team's motivation and give the department a fresh look" for the future.

"The job of the fire chief is to take care of people and that's going to be my goal," said Kendrick.

Previous plans for Chatham Emergency Management Services (CEMS) to provide an interim fire chief did not go through. Instead, TIFD lieutenants handled day-to-day operations as the city fast tracked its search for a replacement.

During that period, Tybee Island City Manager Shawn Gillen said he's been working with the HR director and employee focus groups to develop new policies and additional training to create the avenues where people can report similar issues about workplace behavior.

Gillen said a review board made up of city staff and community members interviewed about five individuals after selecting candidates from dozens of applications from across the Southeast. After rounds of interviews and a shadowing period for each candidate, it was Kendrick who stood out as the best fit, said Gillen.

"It was a tough decision," he said, "It was a good problem to have, to pick from great candidates like that."

Kendrick, who is coming off a two-and-a-half year stint as the division chief at the Southern California Logistics Fire Department, said he is excited to reunite with his family in Georgia and work on Tybee Island, which he frequented as a child.

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Credit: Courtesy of the City of Tybee Island

Credit: Courtesy of the City of Tybee Island

"I really put my heart and soul into it and it felt like it was the right thing," said Kendrick.

Gillen said Kendrick's Georgia roots and extensive experience ultimately led to the panel's decision.

"What impressed us a lot about Jeremy was that he saw every issue that we have been seeing...he also recognized a lot of things that we don't know about," said Gillen, "He was able to make a very thorough assessment in a three-day period."

Both Kendrick and Gillen said increasing the TIFD's services, namely emergency services, will be a long-term goal. Currently, Chatham Emergency Management Services (CEMS) serves the city and usually stations one emergency ambulance on the island. When that ambulance is dispatched, another cover unit is sent in, according to CEMS CEO Chuck Kearns.

"Tybee is a big tourist area and the potential for emergency services is really there with the amount of population that comes in," said Kendrick.

Tybee has a permanent population of a little more than 3,000 residents, which can multiply ten times over the weekend during the tourist season, putting a strain on the island's public safety departments. The fire department currently employs 15 full-time fire fighters along with part-timers. About three to four employees are on each shift, said Gillen.

Gillen added that the fire department has come a long way from three years ago when there were just three full-time firefighters. "And even before that, it was all volunteer," said Gillen.

"We are in a unique position being so isolated," said Gillen, "It's an ongoing challenge so we're looking at what we can do here locally and what we can do partnering with Chatham Fire (CEMS)."

At his previous post with Southern California Logistics Fire Department, Kendrick said he oversaw daily operations including fire suppression and services with the city of Victorville, the Federal Aviation Administration side of the airport, deployments for special assignments with the military, as well as other special operations.

His past experience also includes a stint as captain with the Sallyport Global Holdings Fire Service in the Kirkuk Iraq Department of Defense and a brief period with the Savannah River Site Department of Energy.

After two-and-a-half decades, Kendrick said one of the most important things he's learned in the field is humility.

"The day you think you know it all is the day you need to go home and retire," said Kendrick."

The other big lesson, he said, is respecting personnel no matter their rank.

"One thing that I can say that has really been successful for the fire service is having trust and a bond with your personnel and knowing that you've got their back and they've got your back," said Kendrick, "I want to treat everybody with the same respect...it's just paramount for any department or organization."

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at nguan@gannett.com or on Twitter @nancyguann.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Tybee Island's new fire chief Jeremy Kendrick said 'taking care of the people' is his goal