By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
Having a safety officer on the scene of a fire to assure members of the responding crew are not harmed is standard for Jeff Chapman, who has been with the Clinton Fire Department for 18 years. It’s a similar level of assurance Chapman hopes to create as he steps into the newly created safety director position. Jeff Chapman, 42, and a life-long Clinton resident, was promoted to the battalion chief level safety director position on Monday. The position will be funded for two years with a $110,000 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant the fire department received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I feel honored. You see a lot of people come before you. To see myself at 24 years old, born and raised here starting with a blue shirt as a brand new firefighter, to wearing a white shirt today, it still amazes me that I’ve been selected for this position,” Chapman said. “I wear the uniform proudly.”
While Chapman has an office at Central Fire, he’ll be serving all city employees with the charge to increase safety and stem the large amount of worker’s compensation claims the city has incurred. He will also assume some fire code, inspection, investigation and fire prevention activities within the fire department.
“I think with this position, we’re going to identify that there are some places where we can implement a good safety program that, in theory, when in place, can lower costs,” Chapman said. “I don’t think you can come into a position like this wielding a big stick and thinking ‘I’m going to change the world.’ We need to, one: identify where our problems are at and then go in and see what’s the cause of those problems.”
Chapman’s first priority is to meet with department heads to understand how the different city departments operate.
“I want to see what the people of the street department do. I want to see what the people of the water treatment plant do, MTA, city hall. I want to see what is involved in their jobs so I can identify properly a plan of attack on how we would make this city a safer work environment,” Chapman said.
The biggest adjustment Chapman, who has been a lieutenant since 2007, will make is the switch from 24-hour shifts working on the line to working during business hours Monday through Friday. However, Chapman said it’s that experience paired with the six years he spent in the military before joining the CFD that have readied him for his new position, which he feels is under a palpable amount of scrutiny being a new position, funded for two years aimed at lowering costs.
“I love this place. I really see myself retiring from here,” Chapman said. “I think my experience in the military, the 18 years I’ve been on the line, really prepared me for this.”
As a result of Chapman’s promotion, two other members of the CFD were promoted on Monday as well. Nicholas Carson, who has been with the department since 2006 and served as an engineer since 2011, was promoted to lieutenant.
Ryan Winkler, who has been with the department since 2009 as a firefighter, was promoted to engineer.
Because of this series of promotions, the fire department has an opening for firefighter, which will be filled with someone from the certified list in January.
With the safety director being a new position, Fire Chief Mike Brown said the details of what the job really entails will likely be clear by the end of year one and the position will be evaluated for effectiveness as the grant funding draws to a close. In the meantime, he’s confident in Chapman’s abilities to increase safety throughout the city.
“I’m very very comfortable, it had to be somebody who’s a people person, with energy and he’s got it,” Brown said. “He’s done everything to be ready for this position.”