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New fire chief ushers in plan to reorganize

Chief Jeff Bullock is pushing a department structure that gives the rank and file ownership in the organization.

By SHANNON TAN
Published March 1, 2005


LARGO - Largo's new fire chief, Jeff Bullock, will present his plan to reorganize the 145-member department to firefighters and the City Commission over the next two weeks.

Bullock, who takes the department's reins today, wants firefighters to feel that they have ownership in their organization and are part of a cooperative effort.

The "co-op" structure, he says, will help firefighters understand decisions made by management and help Largo Fire Rescue become more efficient in the long run.

"We are what our people are," said Bullock, 43.

In a post-Sept. 11 era, the traditional top-down management structure may not be the best approach, said City Manager Steven Stanton. He expects a strong partnership between the administration and the firefighters union.

Bullock's goal is to streamline communications throughout the entire department. He's still ironing out the details involved in flattening the current organizational structure. He is establishing a decisionmaking group comprised of command officers, some staff members and the firefighter union president.

"So far, communications have been great," said union president Wayne Stokke. "They're incorporating us into the decisionmaking process, and we're pretty happy about that."

Residents won't have contact with Bullock every day. Their contact will be with firefighters, and if they have ownership and pride in their department, it will show, Bullock said.

He acknowledges that establishing a "co-op" structure takes years. "You can't demand respect," he said. "You have to earn it."

Stanton has also given Bullock the task of improving diversity within the department by reaching out to minority communities in the area. About 6 percent of firefighters are minorities, and another 6 percent are female.

"In the past, it's been difficult," Stanton said. "We've not had the degree of success we needed to have."

Bullock, a member of the Greater Ridgecrest Area Youth Development Initiative's Governing Council, says he is focusing on recruiting more minorities.

This month, Largo firefighters will begin participating in the Multi-Cultural Achievers program run by the YMCA of the Suncoast, Greater Ridgecrest branch. Students in the program are mentored by volunteers with successful careers in fields such as education and health care. Students interested in the fire service can then move into Largo's Fire Explorers program, Bullock said.

"We want to be representative of our community," Bullock said. "That's the way we should do business."

For the past three months, Bullock has been working with Chief E. Caroll Williams, who retired Monday, learning about areas such as the budget and fire prevention. Williams, a 36-year veteran, has been fire chief since 1997.

"It was a very unique handoff," Stanton said.

At 18, Bullock was the youngest person hired by Largo Fire Rescue in 1979. Even back then, he worked closely with Williams, helping out at Williams' part-time flooring business.

He was promoted to lieutenant in 1994. He served five years as president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 2427. In 2003, he was promoted to a newly created position as deputy chief of fire and EMS operations.

Bullock, who has served on the hazardous materials and technical rescue teams, is also looking at new mapping capabilities to improve the department's technology.

"We can see some changes on the horizon," said Stokke, the union president. "So far, so good."

Bullock will make $90,000 a year and receive a $350 monthly car allowance. Commissioners recently approved a contract that gives him six months' severance pay and a year of health insurance coverage if the city fires him. His contract is for an indefinite term.

--Shannon Tan can be reached at 445-4174 or shtan@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 1, 2005, 01:11:12]


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