By SEAN JONES, The Progress-Index
PETERSBURG, Va. (AP) — Petersburg Fire and Rescue has hired the first female fire chief in its nearly 250-year history. Chief Tina R. Watkins takes over permanently after a number of years of acting chiefs leading the Petersburg Fire Department.
Watkins began his career as a firefighter. For the past 11 years, she served as Battalion Chief for Richmond Fire and Emergency Services, where she oversaw five stations and six fire companies.
She earned a Masters in Leadership with a specialization in Emergency Management and Executive Fire Leadership and a Bachelor of Science in Public Safety and Business Administration. She holds professional certifications from FEMA, the National Fire Academy and the Virginia State Fire Program.
“Ms. Watkins has proven herself in leadership roles with Richmond Fire and Emergency Services since 1988,” said City Manager Stuart Turille. “She rose to the top as the top candidate. better qualified for the job of fire chief in Petersburg.”
She has a number of professional development certifications in areas such as fire prevention, hazardous materials, national fire service personnel and command, emergency planning, and effective communications, among others. She also did fire investigation training and fire public information services.
“Not only does Ms. Watkins have extensive experience in fire administration and field operations, she is a seasoned professional in managing budgets, enforcing regulations, developing necessary policies and procedures. to effectively run Petersburg Fire-Rescue with over 75 members and a $4 million dollar budget,” said Deputy City Manager Tangela Innis.
Watkins was chosen following “extensive research”, according to the city. She was selected from a pool of 13 applicants and her starting salary will be $110,000. His first day of work is January 31.
“I am committed to providing unparalleled leadership and customer service to the citizens of Petersburg,” Tina Watkins said in a press release. “My goal is to develop community fire safety programs and support the professional development and continuing education of all firefighters and rescue personnel. I will work to obtain new fire equipment needed to better protect the city.
Petersburg’s last full-time fire chief was Dennis Ruben, who left in 2018 after just a year at the helm. It was preceded and replaced by interim options. Kenneth Miller went on to preside over Fire and Rescue as Director of Public Safety after his elevation from Chief of Police. A former Newport News fire chief, Scott Liebold, was named another acting chief following Miller’s retirement.
Watkins’ permanent hire is applauded by a former Petersburg fire marshal who says she has the strength to be accountable to a department that has lacked leadership for several years.
Marlow Jones left town in 2018 to work as an assistant fire marshal for the state of Virginia. He also remained a resident of the city and ran for city council. He first met Watkins when he was just a rookie in the early 2000s, attending training run by Watkins in Richmond.
“When I met her, she was then a right-dressed woman. She was serious. Everything she said, she didn’t play,” Jones said. “She commands discipline and responsibility. I also don’t think you can pull the wool over her eyes because she’s been around.
The department has not been without its challenges. Fire Station 4 was abruptly closed in 2020. Firefighters received no explanation for the closure but said they had to clear everything from the building – personal effects, furniture, hardware – over the weekend. Extensive mold damage and anticipated COVID-19-related revenue shortfalls were later cited as reasons for the closure, but fire advocates said the situation was poorly communicated to staff. The station has since reopened after renovations.
This month, a local resident called Fire and Rescue to ask if there were smoke detectors for his elderly neighbor. The department told this resident that he did not have one and that he had not had smoke detectors since the start of the pandemic. Firefighters eventually brought smoke detectors to this home, although they had to purchase the detectors themselves, according to the resident. New detectors have since arrived in the city and more are on order.
“When there’s a lack of leadership, there’s a lack of accountability on the other side,” Jones said.
Jones also applauded Watkins’ track record leading a big city fire department.
“Being a chief in Richmond is almost like being in New York, it’s a big city with big fires, skyscrapers, things like that,” Jones said. “She knows the importance of inspections, the importance of investigations and the importance of firefighter morale.”
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.