Retiring fire chief talks hot topics - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Retiring fire chief talks hot topics

Chief Wesley Meadows (Source: Southside Fire and EMS) Chief Wesley Meadows (Source: Southside Fire and EMS)
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

The chief and general manager of Southside Fire and EMS is stepping down; Wesley Meadows has been in charge of the largest private non profit fire service in the state for more than 15 years, and now, the search is on for a new chief.

With the new headquarters just a year old, Meadows said whomever the board chooses, he or she will be well equipped.

"The smoke's the same; the emergency's the same; and the people are trained the same. We've got a good organization," he said. 

The department was established 53 years ago, and Meadows has been in charge for one third of that time.

While in charge, the budget has grown from $2.5 million to $19 million and he was only in the red once in his 16 years as chief and general manager.

"That's when I got three and half million dollars of grant money, and I had throw that into depreciation, and that threw me into the Red, but only 96 thousand dollars worth," Meadows said. 

Of the 234 employees in his department, 130 are volunteer firefighters, and the chief said that brings on some heat and not from fires they fight.

"Private sector and volunteer are looked down upon by a lot of career personnel. It does not make us any worse or any better, it does not make them any worse or any better." Said Meadows.

More than 70 percent of firefighters nationwide are voluteers.

Also on his watch, the merger with Mercy Ambulance in the late 1990s to most recently the merger with MedStar in 2010, meaning SSFD covers all medical calls in Chatham County and the cities in it.

"We have EMS/ALS or Advanced Life Support unit in every city in Chatham County; never before has that occured." Meadows said.

Advanced Life Support training essentially means that if you die, Southside Fire can bring you back. They have one of the highest success rates in the state, they even had to use that training on one of their own, saving Tim Genest's life after a devastating heart attack.  

[See previous story of SSFD honored at the state level]

He is going to stay in Savannah and spend more time with the grandchildren, but he'll never forget that feeling of responding to a fire.

"It's a good adreneline rush, you can't let it get the best of you, but it's a rush, and you can see what you're doing. You can actually see when you're making headway into the program," Meadows said. "And that's one of the greatest things you can do, when you pull up and that first person goes into the building, and the black smoke turns into the white smoke, which means they've hit the fire and it's going out."

And he wraps up his career knowing he's leaving the department in good hands.

"We have some volunteer chiefs that have been with us for 25 years, so we have some depth to our organization, so that's a plus for us," he said.

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