By Tammy Moore Teague
Barling’s Fire Chief, Tommy Sizemore, came on to the department 18 months ago. He had a vision, and that vision encompasses one whole wall in his office. It’s a plan that he came on board with, and has been extremely successful putting into action.
Sizemore retired from a department in Alabama after 29 years of service. While planning for retirement, he began actively searching for a position as a fire chief. “I retired,” explained Sizemore, but “I wasn’t done yet! I knew I had a lot to teach and I was looking for the right department. These guys, they really wanted it.”
When Sizemore came on, the city was rated an ISO 3. They are currently awaiting a determination following a review that took place in March. “The ratings are based on our first 11 months, we’re working as hard as we can. We are working for the people and the improved ISO rating is a return on the people’s investment.” The improved ISO rating will ultimately put money back into the pockets of homeowners by decreasing their insurance rates.
Many volunteer departments feel the ISO ranking is unfair. However, Sizemore said his department is about to disprove that theory. “To improve you must have an extreme understanding of it,” added Sizemore. He certainly has that understanding. He was the ISO coordinator for the City of Hoover, Alabama and Rocky Ridge Fire Department. Both of those were a Class 1, the best there is. The rating is from a 1-9, with 1 being the best and 9 being the worst. “I did my part to get them there,” he said humbly. “I only hold the roadmap, this is their department, not mine. I’m just a facilitator.”
The Barling Fire Department is comprised of four paid firefighters and 25 volunteers. The crew came to the newly hired Chief and expressed their desire to be the best. “If you wanna be the best, you got to act, dress and train it.” Sizemore didn’t think twice when asked if he felt his department had the best crew, “I know we do,” he said confidently. “They said they wanna be the best, but change is painful.”
Sizemore lost a few members, but also gained a few. The department is always looking to recruit those who are eager to serve. “They’ve got to want to be here,” he explained. Training is done in-house. Sizemore is a certified training officer, accredited through the Arkansas Fire College. In order to apply, candidates need to be 18 years of age or older, have a clear driving record, pass a background check and be motivated.
As he began implementing his plan for success, he started with the basics. “Year one was the building blocks, the basics,” Sizemore explained. “The second year, the training will get harder and more advanced.” But he maintains that there is a place for everyone who wants to serve on his department.
Some of his new ideas have increased the public’s accessibility into information about calls the department receives. For example, on Facebook when they respond to a 911 call, it automatically posts to their page with a brief description of the emergency. This is done through an app, Active 911.
Sizemore has wrote several grants that have proved beneficial for the department. “Six months after I started, we got our first grant for $17,000.” Additionally, he has received a FEMA grant, which provides paid health physicals for department members.
He has worked hard to implement programs like rehabilitation and accountability. Rehabilitation is the rest, rehydration, nutritional support and medical monitoring of fire department members during emergency incidents. Sizemore is implementing a badge system, which will promote accountability. “It’s a big puzzle and we’re fitting all the pieces together. Before we get there we have to get our training, accountability and rehab programs in place.”
Sizemore started out as a volunteer firefighter at the age of 18. “Fire service is all I know,” he explained. He graduated from John Carol High School and EMT/Paramedic School at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He and his wife, Jennifer, have been married 26 years and have four children, Josh, T.J., Austin and Andrew.
Sizemore concluded, “I cant control the scene, but I can control these guys safety.” Adding that “the most important rule is that everybody goes home at the end of a shift and at the end of a call.”
Up until 18 months ago, Sizemore was working every night. Now that has changed, and its been an adjustment for both him and his wife. In part two of this series, we explore the impact of fire life on the family.