Healey promotes ‘open door policy’

Published 1:53 pm Monday, September 6, 2010

Austin Fire Chief Mickey Healey has been chief for over a month and considers it a no-regret move for his family. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

This is part of a two-story special highlighting the common philosophy of teamwork shared by the city’s new police chief and fire chief. With less than a month on the job, both Police Chief Brian Krueger and Fire Chief Mickey Healey are tackling the task of implementing new leadership structures within their organizations. See The Herald online or in print Sunday for stories on both Krueger and Healey.

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Fire Chief Michael “Mickey” Healey, who began his work in Austin after serving as a firefighter in Portage, MI, for 17 years, has brought a new meaning to the term “open door policy” in the nearly two months since he took his new position with the Austin Fire Department.

“I don’t believe I have anyone who is afraid to come to my office with an idea or issue,” Healey said. “It’s going very well.”

Engineer Chris Grunewald agreed with Healey’s statement.

“He’s very interested in everyone working together,” Grunewald said of Healey. “It’s a lot more of an energetic atmosphere with the policies he’s been implementing.”

Austin Fire Chief Mickey Healey gets ready to leave the fire station Thursday morning. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Healey’s top policy is definitely to have an open door and open mind to suggestions and ideas from the AFD personnel, and Healey said his staff is adapting well to this mindset.

“They are very open to the changes, and I am too. It’s making their job more efficient,” he said. Healey said that some of his staff has already approached him with suggestions and ideas.

Some of the changes Healey has already made include modifications to the fire engines and equipment. The ladder truck is now a first responding apparatus, whereas it used to be further down the list of responders. Healey said this change will allow the fire fighting team to reach higher stories quicker in large buildings.

The engines also have new hose loads, which allows for a smoother, faster deployment. There are also new intake valves, which, according to Healey, will free up the engine operator so he isn’t tied to the pump as much as with the older valves.

“We’re implementing tactics that have been demonstrated in national conventions,” Healey said. “A fire doubles every 30 seconds so even shaving off 15 seconds can make the difference between a large fire and a small fire.”

In the near future, Healey plans on replacing a couple of the fire engines and replacing the bunker gear. He also hopes to obtain new gear washing equipment that will extract more of the smoke from the firefighters’ gear and make the department healthier as a whole.

All of the changes made so far are for the purpose of increasing efficiency on calls, according to the chief. “We’re taxpayer’s money and we don’t want to spend it frivolously,” he explained. “All of the changes are making our work safer and more timely.”

Healey also mentioned the department will be hiring three part-time firefighters in the very near future, which will hopefully also increase efficiency.

Other than the changes being made to equipment in the department, Healey said he has several ideas for other ways to improve the department, including involving the fire fighting team with more hands-on course training so that some of the fire fighters can become instructors. Healey’s ultimate goal is for Austin to become the regional training facility for southeastern Minnesota. “You build good firefighters if you are constantly training,” he added.

As a fourth generation firefighter in his family, Healey said he frequently bounces ideas off his wife, who is also a firefighter, although she is not currently working. With a wife who shares his profession, Healey said he brings work home frequently, but that doesn’t necessarily affect him negatively.

“I’ll always take work home. I’m always a firefighter,” he said. “I don’t leave the station and lose that. I just try not to take the stressful parts home with me.”

Healey replaced former fire chief Dan Wilson, who allegedly created a hostile work environment. Healey said that the atmosphere at the department hasn’t been very tense since he took over, though. “When you have that long of a working relationship with someone, there is still some lingering doubts when a new chief comes in, but the personnel here is just trying to let our history be history and work on the future,” Healey commented. “I don’t get the sense that (the personnel) is on guard with me right now.”

Healey said he is not only enjoying his position as fire chief, but he and his family are enjoying the city and are looking forward to becoming more involved in school activities once his children start school. “It’s been a great experience coming to Austin,” he said. “It was a very good career decision for myself and for my family.”