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Fire chief shifts hierarchy, cuts costs
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Only 60 days into the job, Covington Fire Chief John McNeil is making changes to improve operations while reducing his budget by $22,663.

The Covington City Council approved McNeil's request on Monday to eliminate two vacant positions: assistant fire chief, $109,200 in salary and benefits, and the captain of accreditation, $94,768 total package.

McNeil will reallocate that money to hire a fire safety educator, $72,000 total, an additional firefighter, $47,305 total, and promote three lieutenants to captains, at a cost of $12,000.

"The department has operated without an assistant fire chief since January 2010, and I am confident that the removal of one layer in the organizational structure would better serve the organization and the citizens it serves," McNeil said in a Tuesday email. McNeil replaced retiring Chief Don Floyd in mid-June.

The changes simplify the department's hierarchy and now the fire marshal, deputy chief of operations and training and the accreditation and support services manager will all report directly to McNeil.

The new fire safety educator would manage the fire safety house, which is planned to open in October, and focus on community outreach and involvement.

The three upgraded captains would fill out the leadership ranks at Fire Station 1, 2102 Pace Street.

Adding one firefighter would bring total number back up to full strength of 53.

In addition, $50,000 would also be used to buy a new self-contained breathing apparatus for firefighters to replace a 25 year-old one. Because this item would not be purchased next year, McNeil said the total savings from the aforementioned personnel changes would save the city $72,000 next year. The council approved all of the changes.

The council also approved McNeil's recommendation to enter into a larger automatic aid agreement with Newton County, which is expected to improve response times for northeast Newton County and southern Covington.

Given the current arrangement of stations, the city is able to more quickly respond to fires in northwest Newton than the county is, while the reverse is true for the southern section of Covington. Therefore, the two departments will agree to automatically respond to fires in those areas to enhance response times.

Finally, the fire department will also bid out four budgeted vehicles: an alternative medical response vehicle, a vehicle to replace a wrecked vehicle for the deputy chief of operations, an SUV for the fire marshal and a new SUV for battalion chiefs to use as a mobile command unit on scene.

McNeil said the alternative response vehicle will save time and money by being used on medical calls instead of fire trucks. He said 60 percent of all calls are medical, and 80 percent of those calls come out of Fire Station 1. The new vehicle will save wear and tear on trucks as well as on firefighter's suits and breathing apparatus, which is not needed for a medical call.