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Local Column

Heimerman: My personal hail to the chief

I’d like to provide further evidence of DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks’ cool-headed demeanor.

We’re annoying, we media types. On Monday morning, during a fire in the Heatherstone subdivision, Deputy Chief Jim Zarek had to shoo me away from the sidewalk in front of a house fire. While it was public property, I probably shouldn’t have been there.

So I nosed around and found Hicks behind a DeKalb Fire SUV across the street, where I badgered him for details. He gave me a pretty slick compliment, even if he didn’t mean it to be complimentary.

“You’re seeing what I’m seeing,” he said. “You got here about as quick as we did.”

I didn’t explain to him that I needed to be at the courthouse in 45 minutes, after I’d finished writing up the report on the fire. I just asked questions, and he coolly told me, more or less, that he had as much information as I had at that point.

On election night, he was equally cool after a fire at an apartment on Greenbrier Road.

Not once has he brushed me off or not returned a call – a vast improvement compared with other markets I’ve worked in.

Upon learning he’d announced his retirement, on Thanksgiving Day I texted him asking for an interview Friday. He obliged. Innocent as it might seem, hearing back from a source on a holiday can be a unicorn.

I’ve spent some time with both deputy chiefs, Zarek and Jeff McMaster, and I have to tip my cap to Hicks for his pragmatic approach to the current climate in DeKalb. Everyone I’ve chatted with has said the DeKalb Fire Department has done a wonderful job grooming new administrators – maybe that’s the logical response by Hicks, when he came in with virtually no training after the great employee clear-out of 2008.

Both Zarek and McMaster are more than prepared to be a great interim fire chief, if not a permanent one. That’s a tribute to Hicks.

And that’s on top of being a firefighter – his true passion.

“That’s one of the things I miss most, is an actual fire job,” he said. “We spend a lot of time with budgets and funding. Our job is to make sure the fire people have the things to do their job on a daily basis. I miss being just a firefighter.”

I feel you, Chief. I miss being just a writer – which is why it’s been a pleasure to pen your story.

• Christopher Heimerman is the editor at the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached at cheimerman@shawmedia.com.

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