New Whitehouse fire chief is working towards bigger, better things

Published on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 19:01 - Written by KELLY GOOCH kgooch@tylerpaper.com

As Madison Johnson takes the helm of the Whitehouse Municipal Fire Department, he said he wants to facilitate a smooth transition toward “bigger and better things” as the city grows.

Johnson, 44, was hired earlier this year following a house fire on Senter Avenue.

After the fire, which occurred Aug. 18, various issues were brought up, such as the 18-minute response time and a nearby fire hydrant that didn't work properly that day.

It was eventually determined that there was a deficiency with written protocols for communications and manning the district during certain circumstances, City Manager Kevin Huckabee said in August via email.

“We took a look at it and ... did some readjusting,” he added at the time.

The readjusting included; bringing in Tyler Fire Department Capt. Mike Frost to serve as an interim administrative fire consultant for Whitehouse, and hiring a full-time fire chief.

That chief was Johnson, who started working with the fire department late last month and went to full-time Oct. 10. Before coming to Whitehouse, he spent nearly 13 years with the Jacksonville Fire Department, where he last worked as a firefighter/paramedic.

As far as his fire service career, Johnson said he’s been gearing it toward administration and developing himself for such a role. Then when he found out about the Whitehouse job, he knew he met the qualifications, and everything worked out, Johnson said.

The Whitehouse Municipal Fire Department consists of 16 part-time members, along with Johnson, who is full-time. John Hargis, hired last year as part-time municipal fire chief, serves as assistant municipal fire chief, while Jeff Molloy serves as municipal captain.

Johnson said the department is “very operational” when it comes to things like daily operations, fire suppression and rescue.

“Things are in place, and I couldn’t be happier with the kind of service that we’re already providing,” Johnson said.

Still, he said, “there’s always room for improvement.”

Johnson said Frost started reviewing policy and addressing some of the issues that maybe were of concern following the Senter Avenue fire.

“He got some policies and procedures, (and) he revamped things that were already there. He just clarified them a little more,” Johnson said.

For instance, he said, the department has an adapted fire hydrant maintenance program, which has better checks and balances.

Johnson said that as chief, he has focused on observing and evaluating personnel, as well as policy, guidelines and procedures.

He said he also is reviewing records and charting department members’ certifications, so he can determine what training areas to focus on. Additionally, he said, he and Hargis are developing a healthy working relationship.

“We really complement each other in our school of thinking,” he said. “We think alike, but we think about different things. I think it’s really going to be a good relationship.”

Johnson said it’s important to him to make it a smooth transition for department members, who “just want to fight fire and help folks and help their community.”

“The guys have been through a lot. There is a lot of unknown right now, and with that unknown, I need those men ready to respond and focused on their job, not focused on everything else that’s going to affect their job or could affect their job,” Johnson said.

While Johnson is working to make a smooth transition within his department, he said he’s also been well received by the Whitehouse Volunteer Fire Department.

“It’s put me more at ease and made me realize my resources are way more plentiful than I could imagine,” Johnson said.

He said the municipal department consists of two men on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing service to residents and to the surrounding district outside city limits. He said the municipal department also works hand-in-hand with the volunteer department, and the well-trained volunteers are great at responding to emergencies.

“We all have the same communication … ,” he said. “The volunteers will respond like they always do, but the paid side guarantees it for the city that you’re getting at least two people plus volunteers.”

He said the idea is to eventually grow and increase municipal staff as well as the municipal department’s stock as far as equipment and apparatus, so it is more of a self-contained fire department.

But Johnson said he never wants to sever the relationship with the volunteers.

“This community supports the volunteers strongly, and it’s part of this city’s culture … so it’s important to me,” he said.

Overall, Johnson said he is looking forward to what the future holds.

“For me, there’s a lot of personal goals that I hope to fulfill here, and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.