JONESBORO — Clayton County assistant fire Chief Landry Doyle Merkison has dutifully worked his way through the ranks of the county’s fire department over the last 17 years.
Merkison, who is a finalist to become the department’s next chief, is the most local one of the three remaining candidates for the position. He’s a graduate of North Clayton High School and holds a 2-year degree in architecture from Griffin Technical Institute.
Before he was hired by Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services in 1996, he worked for the Jonesboro and Riverdale fire departments between 1992 and 1996. That makes him the only finalist whose entire firefighting work experience has been in the county.
But Morrow residents with long memories may remember a time when, according to his personnel file, Merkison sold sporting goods at Service Merchandise or when he installed car radios for Circuit City from 1991 until 1994.
How he rose in the department
Merkison began his career with Clayton County as a firefighter and EMT from 1996 until 2002, according to his resume. He was promoted to fire sergeant inspector in 2002 and was promoted again to fire lieutenant inspector in 2004.
He became a captain in 2006 and in that role, where he oversaw the newly created technical services division and led an eight-person arson unit. His resume shows he also became the department’s media spokesman while he was a captain.
In 2008, he became a battalion chief and assistant fire marshal. He remained with technical services during this period and designed and implemented the Clayton Fire Network, which is a digital training system that tripled the number of training hours provided to staff, while also decreasing fuel costs.
The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia also awarded Clayton County with its County of Excellence Award for Technology because of the department’s work.
In 2010, Merkison was promoted to assistant chief of emergency operations and deputy director of emergency management for the county. During his time in this position, he helped re-write the county’s emergency management code to add curfew requirements and protections against price gouging in the event of a disaster. He also coordinated the county’s Emergency Operations Center during the 2011 ice storm, which crippled metro Atlanta for days.
He became the assistant chief of logistics and the director of emergency management this year.
Lots of praise and little trouble
Merkison’s personnel file shows his rise through the ranks was marked with commendations more often than reprimands.
As a young fire fighter with the county, Merkison received at least six letters of commendation from county and fire department officials. The praise came for how he handled himself while responding to emergencies, and for his dedication to his job.
In 1998 and 1999, he received letters of congratulations from then county commission Chairman Crandle Bray for not using sick leave during the preceding years. Each year, the letter said the same thing.
“This is quite an accomplishment and one that certainly deserves recognition,” Bray wrote in both letters. “Employees like yourself are an asset to the fire department and our county government. We appreciate your dedication to your job and the citizens of Clayton County.”
His file shows he received a certificate of appreciation from then-fire Chief Glenn Johnson March 10, 1998 for not using sick leave.
Merkison and two other fire department employees also received praise Oct. 20, 1996 from a resident, John Dearing, whose home had carbon monoxide in it. During an initial check of areas Dearing’s family thought might have caused a carbon monoxide alarm to go off, the fire fighters found no fumes, Dearing wrote.
However, the letter shows firefighters had a feeling a more detailed check was needed, and they called the gas company come in and check the home. They found 4,000 units of “deadly gas” in a furnace and in an air duct in a room where an infant rested, said Dearing.
“If it was not for their second notion and experience, one of my family members could have died later that night,” Dearing wrote. “They could have easily went back in service as the tack unit and dismissed the whole thing as a bad smell in the heater. They went the ‘extra mile’ in providing service to our community.”
Johnson and Bray sent letters of commendation to Merkison based on Dearing’s letter.
He received another letter of commendation Nov. 28, 1997 from Battalion Commander Bobby Jinks for “a job well done” while responding to a fire six days earlier on Turner Road in Hampton.
“I am proud to have fire fighters like yourself working for Clayton County Fire Department, who have the ability to work together in a professional manner to get the job done,” Jinks wrote in the letter.
By comparison, Merkison’s file shows he has only been reprimanded twice in nearly two decades.
In the first instance, he received a warning Jan. 15, 1998 for oversleeping one day. It was his first warning for such an offense, and there are no other documents detailing any further issues with Merkison arriving to work on time in his career with the county.
The other disciplinary action taken against him was a four-hour suspension without pay earlier this year for accidentally backing into a department-owned vehicle.
A short stint away from firefighting
But Merkison has not spent all of the last 17 years with the Clayton County fire department. He resigned from his position as master firefighter April 6, 2001, to pursue other career options.
“I have no ill or negative feelings of any kind,” Merkison wrote in his resignation letter. “I only feel that it is time for me to pursue my dream of being an engineer, and have been given that opportunity. I will be pursuing a career in fire protection engineering as well as finishing my civil engineering degree.”
His departure didn’t last long, though. His civil service paperwork shows he was rehired Dec. 22, 2001 by the department at the rank of master firefighter.
His application for the chief position shows he worked as a computer-aided drafting design engineer for Atlanta-based Rolf Jensen and Associates during his time away from the department. While he worked as an engineer, Merkison worked on fire protection designs and conducted field survey work and forensic fire investigation services.
He listed “too much travel” on his application as the reason why he left that job in December 2001 to return to the fire department.
Further training and education
Merkison is presently pursuing a bachelors degree in fire administration from Orange Beach, Ala.-based Columbia Southern University. He received a two-year scholarship from the school and the Metro Atlanta Fire Chiefs Association in February to attend Columbia Southern and work on his degree. The university offers online bachelor degree programs.
Merkison listed on his application that he is in the process of completing courses in fire service budgeting, employment law, state and local politics, and advanced fire administration. On Thursday, he said he expects to graduate in 2014. He said he will then begin studies to receive a masters degree in emergency services management from Columbia Southern.
His application also shows he is a Peace Officer Standards and Training Council-certified arson investigator, a state-certified emergency manager and a National Fire Protection Association-certified fire inspector.
Editor’s note: Clayton News Daily is profiling the Clayton County fire chief finalists this week. An additional profile will run Saturday.