Photo by Elaine Rackley
Clayton County Fire Chief Jeff Hood has worked more than three decades in the fire service industry.
RIVERDALE — Jeff Hood has more than 30 years of experience fighting fires and saving lives in Clayton County. He is the Clayton County Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director of Clayton County Fire & Emergency Services.
“The profession has changed quite a bit, back when I started we used to ride on the back of the firetruck,” Hood said while laughing. “We had to stop because of safety issues.”
Hood is a lifelong resident of Clayton County, and a 1978 graduate of Morrow High School. He began his career the same year, with the county’s fire department coincidentally on Sept. 11, the same date as the infamous terrorist attacks in New York 23 years later.
“As a result of 9/11, we are now trained to handle events such as structural collapses,” Hood acknowledged. “We now have fire service, emergency medical service, and emergency management agency.”
Hood commands 366 firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and clerical personnel.
Prior to becoming fire chief, Hood served as the Clayton County Fire & Emergency Services Assistant Chief of Operations. He became Interim Clayton County Fire Chief on Christmas Day of 2010 and later became permanent fire chief on April 5, 2011.
“When I started it was primarily a fire service and through the years it has developed into an all-hazards department,” Hood said. “We deal with a lot of special operations. Primarily, 80 percent of what we do is emergency medical services. We are fire-based, emergency medical services transport service.”
Some of the special operations of the fire department include Georgia Search and Rescue team, Hazardous Material (Haz-Mat) team, which handles hazardous material spills, special tactical medic program.
“They deploy with the SWAT (Special weapons and tactics) teams as well as with federal agencies,” Hood said.
One of the newer special-operation teams is the Bike Medics, where EMTs ride bikes during parades and road races.
There were no injuries reported last year during the Tensar plant fire in Morrow on June 22, which may have been one of the largest fires in his 33-year career.
However, he said it is not the fire that has left its mark on his life.
There were four firefighters injured battling a blaze June 7, 2007, at the Budget Inn Extended Stay hotel. One of those firefighters was his and the other three were from the Riverdale Fire and Rescue department.
“I was on my way to work that morning,” said Hood, who was serving as Clayton County Fire Deputy Chief of Operations. “I remember sitting at the red light at the intersection of Highway 85 and Highway 138, when they dispatched the call of a person trapped in the fire. I looked north on 85, and I could actually see a large plume of smoke. Obviously seeing that and knowing that a person was trapped, it was of grave concern to me.”
Hood said once he arrived on the scene, he unified control with the city of Riverdale Fire Department, which already had units at the scene.
“I immediately struck a second and third alarm, requesting more equipment,” Hood said. “I knew it would be needed due to the nature of the rescue possibilities and the large amount of fire.”
Nearly 100 firefighters fought the blaze at the two-story hotel. The fire was on the “C” side of the building and had engulfed the first and second floors.
Hood said his main frustration with the incident was the lack of communication at the time between dispatchers and the victims.
"The victims were unable to tell the dispatcher where they were in the hotel," Hood said. "They didn't give them the room number. We had trouble locating where the victims were.”
Clayton and Riverdale firefighters were able to evacuate 300 people.
"There were people who were unaware the building was on fire, that needed to be evacuated," Hood said.
There was one survivor of the people who hid themselves in a bathroom shower of one of the hotel rooms. Five people died in as a result of the blaze.
"I had no idea it would be that many fatalities, but if we could have quickly identified their location it could have been a different outcome," he said.
The hotel did not have a sprinkler system, which is why Hood now stresses to the entire county sprinkler systems are a must in multi-family dwellings.
"Any hotel or multi-family dwelling should be required to have a sprinkler system," added the fire chief.
Hood said even before the extended stay hotel fire, he has always felt continuous training for firefighters is essential.
"In this profession training is key," Hood said. "I tell recruits they are going to get sick of the repetition of training scenarios they will do. But to just remember that it has been proven time and time again that public safety personnel revert to the basics in order to survive when they find themselves in dyer straights."
He added that training for all personnel improves competence and confidence.
On Feb. 9, 1991, Hood was faced with his own mortality. At that time he was firefighter/EMT responding to a "person shot" call. Hood along with his partner went to a house where the victim had run from her abusive husband, with their child in her arms. She had been shot multiple times by her husband, according to Hood.
When they arrived at the neighbor's house, Hood and his partner were unaware the gunman was in the house next door. The EMTs would find out later that they were in the middle of a domestic dispute.
While Hood and the other EMTs tended to the mother and child, who had been shot on the side of the face, the gunman had barricaded himself inside the house next door.
"The police had to cover us as we left the house. Once we transported the mother to the hospital, we were dispatched back to the scene and were told to stand by," said the fire chief. The child was taken to the hospital in a different ambulance.
The stand off with the gunman began around 1 p.m., and continued through the night. However, when night fell a policeman was shot, when gunfire was exchanged between the suspect and police.
Hood and his partner took the injured officer to the hospital,
"I have thought about that many times since then," Hood said. "We were re-dispatched to the scene and while standing by the officer was shot. We removed him under fire. He did survive."
As a result of that incident, a policy was established to ensure the safety of firefighters and EMTs.
"On any call that appears to be violent, the police department is dispatched with us," Hood explained. "Law enforcement has to secure the scene and advise us via radio that we can enter."
Hood added that the Tactical Medic Program stemmed from the incident as well.
Now the Clayton Fire Department has paramedics that are law enforcement officers, who are trained for those types of incidents.
Hood is a member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs, Georgia Mutual Aid Group and Metro Atlanta Fire Chiefs Association.
He is the recipient of several Valor Awards, including one from the Governor of the State of Georgia, and a four-time Firefighter Combat Challenge World Champion (2006, 2007, 2008 & 2010). Additionally, he is a Level III Paramedic Instructor and has been published in various fire and EMS magazines throughout his career.