Clayton County fire Chief Landry Merkison takes the oath of office administered by Georgia EMA Director Charlie English. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — In front of a packed crowd Friday afternoon, Clayton County fire Assistant Chief Landry Merkison ascended to the office of chief and director of emergency services.
County Commissioner Sonna Singleton praised Merkison’s professionalism and promptness and said she will sleep easy knowing he’s at the helm.
“I am very, very grateful to witness his ascension to this very important role,” she said. “I will be at peace tonight, along with 258,000 other Clayton County residents, knowing that Landry Merkison is our protector and chief.”
The installation ceremony was kicked off with remarks from commission Chairman Jeff Turner, the former chief for Clayton County Police Department. He and Merkison exchanged light-hearted banter illustrating the friendly rivalry between police and fire officials.
“Police and fire officers can be brutal to each other,” said Turner, before telling a joke about a firefighter and police officer in heaven. “There are lots of practical jokes back and forth.”
Merkison got back at Turner when he took the podium, telling him that a police officer is someone who couldn’t make it through the fire academy.
The jocularity was set-off by the faith and trust Clayton County leaders have instilled in Merkison.
“What makes a fire chief successful is how dedicated he is to serving his community and the men and women under him,” Turner said. “God has given you an awesome responsibility. Good luck and God bless.”
Commissioner Gail Hambrick said Merkison achieved the high position through the training and leadership he experienced under former chiefs Alex Cohilas and Jeff Hood.
Both men attended the ceremony, as did former commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, Sheriff Victor Hill and Clayton County police deputy chiefs Chris Butler and Gina Hawkins.
“Chief Merkison had two very good leaders in Chief Cohilas and Chief Hood,” Hambrick said. “This man is smart, he really is. I hope he will continue to train and teach so we will continue to have the best fire department in the nation. Those are big shoulders you are standing on.”
Merkison took the oath of emergency management director from Georgia’s EMA Director Charlie English.
Sandi Merkison pinned the chief’s badge on her husband’s uniform. Her mother, Sue Tackett, and Merkison’s parents, Don and Jackie Merkison, also attended as did other relatives and supporters.
Merkison thanked God, his wife and family and firefighters for his successes.
“This is the culmination of one journey and the beginning of another,” he said. “I didn’t achieve this goal on my own and I won’t retain it without the support of those around me.”
Merkison said he pledged to form partnerships within the county where needed and to forge ahead down new paths, paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“You are the backbone of this organization,” he said, pointing to his firefighters. “We will not go where the path leads us. We will go where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Merkison and other speakers alluded to the controversy surrounding the chief’s position leading up to the decision to appoint him. However, it took a back seat to the joy that the members of the department and county officials exuded in making that appointment permanent.
“This is a good day,” Battalion Chief Jacque Feilke said.