Healey: ‘My heart still is back on that fire engine’Published 4:45pm Saturday, May 11, 2013
Healey is trading his command vehicle for a seat in a fire engine.
After almost three years in Austin, Healey submitted his letter of resignation to the city Friday to take a job with the South Montgomery County Emergency Services District 8 in Spring, Texas, a northern suburb of Houston.
Healey said his main inspiration for the move was to return to working shifts in a fire department, which puts him back on the street fighting fires and responding to calls, rather than coordinating them.
“My heart still is back on that fire engine,” Healey said.
Healey will work in Austin until June 5, and will start as a line officer in South Montgomery County on June 10.
“The history of my fire career has been with larger departments with a wider range of response needs,” Healey wrote in the letter.
Healey moved to Austin from Portage, Mich., when the Austin City Council unanimously voted to hire him in June of 2010 after Dan Wilson retired. Healey took over as chief that July.
Healey described Spring — about 25 miles north of downtown Houston — as a growing area seeing a huge influx of new residents. Healey will be moving to work with some familiar faces, as he has previously worked with the chief and other employees at the South Montgomery County department.
Healey said he’s looking forward to getting back to a department with diversification and a wide variety of emergency services.
“This puts me back in an element that I’m very comfortable with,” he said.
Healey admitted departments the size of Austin often have limitations on the expansion of services.
Healey was proud to talk of the positive changes he saw in his time at the Austin Fire Department. He said the camaraderie in the department has improved and that there’s a mutual respect in the department. He said everyone has stepped up and worked to make the department better.
During his three years in Austin, Healey said he believes he and his employees were able to dispel some myths and prove the vitality of the department to the community.
“I’m most proud of the way that this fire department has turned around,” he said.
Healey said the fire department has added proper command staff, certified firefighters at the National Fire Protection Association level and has advanced the department’s technical rescue skills.
Healey said his firefighters had a chance to grow and now 15 are EMT certified and are capable of performing medical rescues, rope rescues and hazardous material rescues.
“The gentleman here have really stepped up and built their certification base,” he said.
The department purchased a new fire truck last fall, which Healey said has helped address the emergency needs more effectively.
Healey said the fire department will continue to play a vital role in keeping the community safe, and he hopes the department continues to advance and improve. Healey described the fire department as a huge asset to the community, and said the more the department can progress, the more the community will improve.
“I hope that everything in the future allows them to keep growing,” he said.
Healey admitted his departure came as a surprise to many at the department. But after more than a decade working as a firefighter in a station house, Healey said, it was a significant change to become a chief.
“That’s a huge transition,” he said.
Like many in the department, Healey’s resignation also took city officials by surprise.
“It’s a surprise, and I certainly wish the best for him,” City Administrator Jim Hurm said.
Hurm described the move to a growing city as a good opportunity for Healey to advance his career, and he said the chief accomplished good things and made many improvements during his time in Austin.
“He’s really done a great job of training and getting all the guys up to speed,” Hurm said.
Austin will begin looking for a new fire chief, a process Hurm said could take two to three months. He did not have any details on the city appointing an interim chief, but noted the city has a few weeks before Healey’s last day.
Healey said he’s not leaving because of any relationships or interactions with Austin city officials, but admitted he won’t miss the political side of job.
“I don’t like the politics much,” he said.
In March, the Austin council voted 4-3 to allow Healey to switch the fire department’s schedule from an alternating night- and day-shift schedule to a 24 hours on/48 hours off schedule.
In 2011, Hurm sent a letter to Healey asking him to discontinue EMT training within the department, because of concerns of the training would affect the firefighters’ union agreement. City officials described it as a lack of communication.
Though he enjoyed his time as Austin’s fire chief, Healey doesn’t see himself ever becoming a station chief again, though he would be willing to work as a lower level chief.
After almost three years largely coordinating calls, Healey said he’s looking forward to a more active role in responding to emergencies.
“My passion is still back in the engine house and on the fire truck,” he said.
Healey thanked the city of Austin for supporting the fire department during his time in the community and said he’s looking forward to returning to a metropolitan area.
“It’s just going to be nice to get back to a big city again,” he said.