By Curt Yeomans
On Christmas Day, Clayton County is going to get the gift of a new interim fire chief, complete with more than three decades of experience in the county's fire department.
On Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners appointed Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Assistant Chief Jeff Hood to serve as the temporary replacement for retiring fire chief, Alex Cohilas.
Cohilas is scheduled to retire as both fire chief and the county's chief of staff, on Dec. 24.
Hood, who has worked for the fire department for 32 years, is set to take over on Dec. 25th. The county's commissioners voted unanimously for the Hood appointment.
"I feel very honored," said Hood, after the appointment was announced. "I want to thank the Board of Commissioners for their faith in my ability to provide leadership to a public safety organization that is without a doubt one of the best in the nation."
Hood's appointment by a 5-0 vote, means many of the programs and traditions of the department will continue after Cohilas steps down, both the outgoing, and incoming, fire chiefs said.
Hood said he also plans to apply for the permanent chief's position. "I eagerly look forward to the opportunity to put my mark on the department," he said. "I plan to hold onto our finest traditions, while implementing new technologies and innovations to ensure a state-of-the-art, and cost-effective agency."
Cohilas said Hood was his personal preference for interim chief, and he was "ecstatic" that the county commission "made a tremendous choice" to give the job to the veteran fire department employee.
"He is extremely talented, and he's one of the most accomplished officers in our department's history," Cohilas said. "He's been a leader at every rank level. He has excelled in every task he's been given, and he's been perfectly groomed for the position."
Hood said he joined the Clayton County Fire Department -- which later became Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services -- on Sept. 11, 1978, just a couple of years after Cohilas joined the department. Cohilas said that shortly after he became fire chief, in 2001, he promoted Hood to deputy chief of operations, and promoted him, to assistant chief about three years ago.
Cohilas said Hood, who was once a paramedic, was instrumental in revamping, and improving the department's training program for Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Hood's work has included helping establish the fire department's Advanced Life Support Engine Company, and write the test EMTs take to be paramedics in the department, Cohilas said.
Eldrin Bell, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said Hood also has been instrumental in overseeing the department's operations since Cohilas was appointed by the commission, two years ago, to wear an extra hat as the county's chief of staff.
"He has been fulfilling the function [of fire chief] for the term that Chief Cohilas was assigned to chief of staff, in an exemplary manner," Bell said.
Hood said, in his new role, he wants the department to be consistent in the way it provides services to all citizens in all parts of the county.
"I seek to ensure a service-delivery platform that provides the highest quality of service, irrespective of where our citizens and guests live and work," Hood said. "Tragedy can strike anywhere, and is not a respecter of persons."
Hood offered nothing but praise for the people who work in the department, and said he wants to take advantage of their skills to improve the department as a whole. "We have an outstanding group of firefighters and paramedics from all walks of life," he said. "Our diversity is our strength, and I plan to harness each individual's talents, and use them to our collective advantage.
Hood, who is a native of Clayton County, said he also wants to see more local residents -- people who grew up in Clayton County, and continue to live in the county -- serving in the department. "I will aggressively recruit from our community, because I continue to believe in growing our own talent," he said.
As for finding a permanent fire chief, Bell said he plans to meet with the county's human resources director this week to map out a process for finding a permanent fire chief. He said he will take that plan to the county commission at a later, unspecified date.
Bell added there are no plans in place -- that he is aware of -- for finding a new chief of staff.