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A legacy of leadership
Covington Fire Chief John McNeil had his final shift Friday
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John McNeil’s last shift has ended.

The Covington Fire Department (CFD) Chief finished his last day on the job Friday, after announcing his resignation Sept. 15.

McNeil came to Covington in June 2011 and had planned to guide the city’s fire department for a long time, before he decided to step down this month.

“I’m considering this my retirement,” McNeil said.

McNeil also said he feels the department is better than it was almost four years ago, pointing to a list of achievements it has made while he was at the helm.

Since 2011 the CFD got reaccredited, improved its ISO rating, raised the level of training and care for citizens in terms of emergency medical response, got nearly all of the department certified as emergency medical technicians and accomplished aspects of technical rescue training that hasn’t been done in years.

“The first thing I did when I got here was just kind of listened to what the fire fighters felt like where the organization was at and what it needed,” McNeil said. “From there I went to try and implement changes that would address their concerns and how we would best serve the citizens of Covington.”

While McNeil was the one at the top of the CFD’s organization chart when these changes were implemented, he is quick to point out it was an effort of the entire department. Noting his leadership style is to rely on the pople and the talents throughout the entirety of the organization.

“I look at leadership at being at all levels,” McNeil said. “At different levels, different people bring different things to the table to make the organization better. That’s always been my approach. I don’t know everything, and don’t pretend to know everything. I tap into what other people’s strengths are.”

McNeil knows a thing or two about what is needed at the different levels of fire service, as well. He rose through the ranks at with the Atlanta Fire Department, starting as a slightly older new recruit, working at several departments, climbing as high as deputy chief. He then chose to leave Atlanta and become Rockdale County’s Emergency Services Director in May 2009, before being hired by Covington City Manager Steven Horton in June 2011.

His fire service career came after graduating from Seminary School in his hometown of Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans. After graduation, he decided the priesthood wasn’t for him, and went into social work for a brief period of time. Then, without having really given fire service serious consideration before, McNeil applied to work for the Atlanta Fire Department.

“I think it’s a great career, (and the best part) is working with the other firefighters, and the comradery you develop over the years of working together,” McNeil said. “In the fire service you spend 24 hours on duty, so that means you eat together and are in the same bunk room, so you get to know each other pretty well. Plus you have to trust and depend on each other in difficult situations. Your there almost as much as you are with your own family.”
Some of McNeil’s family have even followed their father into the service of helping others. One son is currently a firefighter in Atlanta, another an EMT in Cobb County and another at Georgia College in Millidgeville, while his daughter is a fifth grade teacher.

McNeil will now get to spend more time with his children wife Mary Ann and attending to his health.

The CFD, meanwhile, will continue to work toward achievements under the guidance of Deputy Chief of Operations David Gunter. The CFD Fire Chief job opening was posted shortly after City Manager Leigh Ann Knight received McNeil’s resignation.

“We wish him the best,” Knight said after announcing McNeil’s resignation. “He has been a great asset to the city. He’s truly going to be missed.”