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Dwayne Jackson will be fire department’s first African-American chief

Named interim leader Tuesday

Clayton County fire Deputy Chief Dwayne Jackson talks to Commission Chairman Jeff Turner Tuesday after Jackson was appointed interim fire chief. He will begin his new job Saturday.

Clayton County fire Deputy Chief Dwayne Jackson talks to Commission Chairman Jeff Turner Tuesday after Jackson was appointed interim fire chief. He will begin his new job Saturday.

— Dwayne Jackson got a nice present from the Clayton County Board of Commissioners on the 23rd anniversary of his hiring by the county’s fire department Tuesday.

The commissioners voted 4-0 to appoint Jackson, who the county fire marshal and a deputy chief with the fire department, as the interim fire chief. He will begin his new job Saturday, the day after outgoing Chief Jeff Hood retires.

Jackson, who is a native of southwest Atlanta, will be a history-making interim chief as the first African-American to lead the fire department. That made his anniversary “a little sweeter” and he was “speechless” over the appointment, he said.

“I knew I was qualified for the job,” said Jackson. “I’ve got the education and I’ve been here long enough. The only thing I needed was the opportunity and evidently I’m getting it, so we’re going to go from there.”

Despite its historical precedent, the appointment came as something of a surprise because it was not on the commission’s meeting agenda. Regardless, fire department employees waited to see if the interim chief would be announced.

As Clerk Shelby Haywood announced a motion was needed to adjourn the meeting after an executive session, Chairman Jeff Turner interrupted her and said he wanted to appoint an interim fire chief. The commission had been meeting in executive session to discuss a personnel matter.

Although they didn’t know if an interim chief would be named, Jackson and several other fire department employees, including Chief Jeff Hood, waited while commissioners met in executive session to see is something might happen.

“I guess the wait was worth it,” said Jackson.

Turner nominated Jackson for the position. No one else from the department was nominated. Commissioner Michael Edmondson was not present for the vote.

A decision on appointing an interim fire chief was delayed two weeks ago, and Turner said late last week the commission hadn’t reached a consensus on who to appoint. Turner has repeatedly said commissioners had “a lot of good candidates to choose from” for the job.

Turner said Jackson’s long career with the department was a plus, but he added whether someone was already in the department wasn’t a key factor in choosing an interim leader for the fire department.

“I don’t see any negatives associated with it,” said Turner. “Some people believe, or say, that if you come from outside, you don’t have those associations within that organization to show favoritism or give someone preferential treatment because they came up through the ranks with you.

“But I think as long as that person is well-rounded, a true leader and somebody who is always going to do the right thing, that matters more than anything,” he continued.

Turner said a national search is being conducted to find a permanent fire chief, and several employees in the department have already submitted applications. Jackson said he will apply for the permanent position.

All employees who applied for the interim and permanent positions will be considered, and a new chief is expected to chosen in short order, said Turner.

“We want to move fairly quick on it,” he said. “It would be good for the department to get someone permanently into the position so they can start working on their initiatives and their vision for the department. I think we all benefit by getting someone in the position soon.”