The future of Randy Smith as interim chief of the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department might be in question after Executive Director of Public Safety Richard Landolt said Friday he would be making staffing recommendations.
Landolt said he was preparing several options for Mayor Sandy Stimpson to consider including bringing Smith up for confirmation, nominating a new candidate for the position, or adding a second chief position to the department’s organizational chart.
A retired Navy rear admiral, Landolt said while the department has a lot of good managers, he would be looking for a leader for the position of chief.
“Management and leadership are two different things,” Landolt said. “The fire department has some really good managers, but I’m looking at other leaders who could do the job.”
He said Smith may remain as one of two chiefs in the department. One position would handle the day-to-day operations of the department, while another would run an “office of transformation” and would implement changes within the department.
“It’s not about Randy as a person,” he said. “It’s about the organization. Randy’s got a lot on his plate.”
Landolt said he has no plans to go outside the department in order to pick a new chief and is already interviewing candidates from within. He confirmed that one of those candidates was Capt. Jason Craig, of Husband Station on Houston Street.
Landolt said although he lacks some educational credentials, Craig is a master sergeant in the Air Force Reserves and is a proven leader.
If Craig is chosen for the new position, he may be the first lower-level captain to be promoted directly to chief in the history of the department.
“I don’t stand on precedent,” Landolt said. “I’m looking forward and not looking in the rear-view mirror.”
Craig could not be reached for comment as of press time Tuesday.
Landolt declined to name any other possible candidates for the job and added he was currently working with the personnel board and reviewing promotion guidelines. He added that he would present his plans to Stimpson once the current budget cycle ends.
Closing of fire stations
One of Landolt’s plans would see the closing and consolidation of fire stations downtown and in midtown that either don’t get much use or are in need of major repairs.
Landolt’s plan would see the closing of Ashland, Henry J. Reid, Central and Gus Rehm fire stations, in favor of a new, smaller station downtown near the intersection of Interstate 165 and Beauregard Street and a new “state-of-the-art megastation” in the vicinity of where Rehm is currently located on Moffat Road.
Landolt said Central and Rehm are “dilapidated,” while Reid and Ashland aren’t heavily used. Ashland first opened in 1930, Rehm opened in 1955, Central opened in 1925 and Reid opened in 1961, according to the department’s website.
Landolt said the plan isn’t too far along and he would still need to look at its effect on response times.
“I’m having a study done on response times,” he said. “None of this is set in stone.”
The megastation could house needed medical equipment for paramedics, Landolt said, while also allowing for on-site maintenance of the department’s vehicles, an operation that is currently handled by the city garage staff. Landolt said he might consider hiring mechanics especially for the department to work on the vehicles.
The city owns all the buildings that house the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department’s 21 fire stations and Landolt suggested some of that property could be sold to developers and converted to commercial use, leading to an increase in revenue.
He also mentioned a new station in Theodore, opened in 2012, as an example of some of the possible amenities available with new stations.
As far as a timeframe to implement the plan, Landolt said he’d like to get moving on it quickly and expects to have it in place in a year or two, and possibly completed within the mayor’s first term. He added that he’d look at partnering with private developers to build the new stations, which would then lease them back to the city.
Landolt was confirmed as public safety director July 1. He previously served as director of operations and cyber at the U.S. Africa Command and as commander of the Amphibious Force for the 7th Fleet in Okinawa, Japan. Landolt also served in the Pentagon as director of international engagement for the Navy.
Although he initially moved to Fairhope with his family, Landolt said Friday he was in the process of closing on a home in Mobile. As an executive director in the Stimpson administration, he will be paid $110,000 a year.
In addition to overseeing operations at the Mobile fire and police departments, Landolt will be in charge of the city’s Safety and Performance Department and will put together an emergency preparedness plan.