Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Chief Jeff Hood accepts a specially-made banner flag honoring his years of service to the department.
By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — It ended right where it started for Jeff Hood in 1978, at the Battlecreek Road fire station in Jonesboro.
Hood was a young, brash and irreverent firefighter trying to find his fit in the Clayton County Fire Department, said former Chief Alex Cohilas. Perhaps fittingly, Hood began his career Sept. 11 — 9/11 — a date that will live in infamy among public safety officials.
"He was a skinny little 18-year-old with a full head of red hair," said Cohilas. "He was irreverent and irrepressible, a smart-aleck."
Cohilas recalled how Hood mocked his superiors and laughed at them but the perceived insubordination was never held against him.
"They couldn't help but laugh with him," said Cohilas. "They never got mad at him, you just couldn't."
Cohilas was one of many who paid tribute to Hood, who retired Friday after nearly 35 years of service to Clayton County. He was appointed chief in April 2011, following Cohilas. Among the line of officials was Commission Chairman Jeff Turner.
"Not everyone completes a journey as excellent as Chief Hood," he said. "Public safety officers perform one courageous act and that's when they put on a badge. The rest is in the line of duty. I applaud you for your years of service and your achievements. You will be missed."
Former Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell also spoke, telling Hood that his struggles served to make him the person he is. Hood's sons, Jeffrey Jr. and Justin, also addressed the standing room-only crowd.
"It's interesting growing up the child of a public safety official, when you are 8, 9, 10 and even 11," said Jeffrey Jr., a pastor and father of twin infant sons. "But the first time you see on the news where a firefighter or police officer or public safety officer has perished, it changes things. It becomes less about lights and more about sacrifice."
Justin Hood said he appreciated everyone who stuck by his family throughout the years.
Chief Hood's wife, Suzanne, also spoke, telling the group that her husband's integrity is consistent "24-7," but got a chuckle recalling his final break with tradition.
"Over the years, I'd ask to ride in the ambulance and he'd tell me 'no,' because it's against county policy," she said. "When he was given a county car, I'd ask for a ride and he'd tell me 'no,' because it's against county policy, that I'd have to take my own car. So I asked him today, 'Do I have to take my own car?' and he said, 'No, I'm retiring today, get in the car.'"
Suzanne Hood also joked that her husband didn't sign off on his own retirement until she signed her teaching certificate.
"I'll be heading off to work and he'll be sleeping," she told a well-wisher afterward.
Hood finally addressed the crowd, walking to the podium to a standing ovation. He thanked his supporters and said he gives God the credit for his successes.
"I also have to thank my wife," he said. "She's sustained me and given me advice over the years. I didn't always listen." The crowd laughed. "My parents, my mother, my late father." Hood paused, choking up. His father, Ray Hood, died last month. "My parents always provided me with an environment that allowed me to succeed."
Hood said he will likely return to the department to teach.