LARGO -- City Manager Steve Stanton announced Monday that Deputy Chief Jeff Bullock was his choice to succeed Chief Caroll Williams in February at the helm of Largo Fire Rescue.
While Stanton's decision came as a surprise to many, for those insiders who have followed Bullock's meteoric rise in the department, the development took on a "right-on-schedule" scenario.
A mere two years ago Bullock was in the rank and file and was president of the firefighters union.
Shortly after the 2003 election, he was appointed deputy chief.
After Williams announced his decision to retire some weeks ago, the announced plan by Stanton was to interview the two deputy chiefs -- Bullock and Tom Tarulli -- and conduct a nationwide search.
"However," Stanton said in a written statement issued Monday, "during the weekend I spent a tremendous amount of time re-evaluating this decision and the qualifications of both Deputy Chiefs Bullock and Tarulli."
The decision he referred to was taken last week after he, Williams, and Susan Sinz, the Human Resources Director, interviewed the two deputies and then announced that a national search would be conducted.
Stanton cited his recent attendance at homeland security session in Anniston, Ala., that he said heightened his feeling that the Largo department should have a transitional leadership before Williams retires in a little more than three months.
His decision, Stanton said in his statement, came down to evaluating the "qualifications, special skills, talents and leadership" of Bullock and Tarulli and that there was no need for a national search.
Stanton recognized that when Bullock, who joined Largo Fire Rescue in 1979, was promoted to deputy chief the move was resented by district and division chiefs over whom Bullock jumped.
Stanton said that Williams's decision to promote Bullock while not popular at the time in the department has "unfortunately continued to be a source of consternation in the department today."
Recognizing that some of the "initiatives" that Bullock has implemented in his role as deputy chief "have been less than popular," Stanton nevertheless said that Bullock's qualifications overrode any judgment to the contrary.
He urged the department to support Bullock in his role as chief and sent, what many would interpret, as a veiled warning to department members who might be recalcitrant.
"The traditional approach to managing a fire department will not meet the needs of this community," he wrote. "One of Fire Chief Bullock's first directives will be to re-evaluate existing staffing, organizational structure and development needs of the department" in light of new thinking brought about by homeland security considerations.
It seems to be apparent from Stanton's choice as well as from his rhetoric that surrounds it that he wants a chief with new thinking in a changed environment for first responders.
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