- Paris Flash
- Real Estate
By CHARLES RICHARDS
City manager John Godwin told the Paris City Council on Monday that he feels “very strongly” someone new from outside should be Paris’ next fire chief and that he has met “on a couple of occasions” with someone he feels “would be perfect for this particular position.”
Longtime fire chief Ronnie Grooms announced his retirement earlier this month after some 30 years with the department. His last day was Friday.
Godwin said the person he has in mind as the next Paris fire chief is Lawrence “Larry” Wright III, 63, who until about two months ago was the fire chief at Marble Falls.
“He is currently retired. He has worked for other city departments that have had troubles. He has expressed a great interest. He has visited Paris twice with his wife and he, like I, think it would be a great place to come work,” the city manager said. “And I’d like to make that happen.”
Godwin said the Paris Fire Department has several people worthy of consideration for fire chief, “but right now in the history of the fire department, that’s probably not the best opportunity for us” in trying to correct high turnover and low morale.
“It’s my goal to be the best fire department in Northeast Texas; I don’t want to have just a good fire department or an OK fire department. I want these people to be happy and productive. I want them to love their jobs,” Godwin said.
“I want to say again, we really have good folks out there. My goal is that they get even better over the next few years,” the manager added.
Wright spent 20 years with the Town of Addison fire department, where he was a firefighter/paramedic and rose through the ranks to assistant chief of operations.
In 1999, he became fire chief for at Rowlett, where he is credited with instituting major programs and professionalizing a department that is now recognized as one of the premier fire departments in Dallas County. Wright oversaw a department with four fire stations and 69 firefighters.
In 2008, he left that job to become fire chief at the lake community of Marble Falls, near his Central Texas ranch.
“Chief Wright has accomplished a great deal in his nine years of service,” Rowlett city manager Craig Owens said after Wright’s retirement to go to Marble Falls.
“Perhaps notable is the connection hebuilt between the Fire Rescue Department and the citizens of the community. The mobilization and preparedness efforts of citizen volunteer organizations built under Chief Wright’s leadership are a model in Texas and the nation,” Owens said.
Among Wright’s new programs and organizations were creation of the Rowlett Citizen Corps Council, the Citizens Emergency Response Team, Code Red, Citizens’ fire Academy, and the Lake Ray Hubbard fire rescue agreement with the City of Dallas.
He is the former president of the Dallas County Fire Chiefs Association, comprised of 18 paid departments in Dallas County.
From 1986 to 1989, Wright served two terms on the Cedar Hill City Council. He and his wife, Lynda, have been married for 43 years.
Godwin said if things go well, Wright could assume the position “between Thanksgiving and Christmas.” If he has to try to find someone else, it probably would be after the first of the year, he said.
Under the City Charter, the city manager may fire department heads, but hiring a new department head requires ratification by the city council.
Mayor AJ Hashmi said he will support whomever Godwin recommends.
“He’ll have my support whether inside or outside as long as (the candidate) meets the qualifications and the city council feels he’s the man,” Hashmi said.
Other council members also said they would go with the manager’s recommendation.
“He’s not ancient. He’s not some old fuddy-duddy that’s looking for a job. He has approximately 30 years of experience,” Godwin said, noting that the candidates is a certified paramedic, a master firefighter, a master inspector, and a master arson investigator, as well as being a certified law enforcement officer.
Former Paris city councilman Jesse Freelan asked for and was granted permission to speak to the council from the podium. He recommended fire marshal and assistant fire chief Dale Maberry.
“About six years ago, Mr. Maberry was promoted to fire marshal. We’d had some issues with the current fire marshal, and we felt this was the best thing to do at the time. At the time we did that, we had hoped we would kind of train him to become fire chief at some point in time,” Freelan said.
“I think he’s done an outstanding job. You should motivate your employees hoping one day to be the fire chief. … When you hire someone that is retired, things kind of stand still. It did for us in the past, when we hired a retired city manager (as interim city manager),” Freelan added.
“An assistant chief has ideas he couldn’t implement because he wasn’t chief. You have one in that position right now that could do a great job for you. He has some great ideas. I would hope and would encourage you to give him a chance.”
Godwin told the council “I agree with everything he said” about Maberry and said he favors promoting from within whenever possible, “especially in police and fire,” adding: “You want to develop that person so it’s kind of an obvious thing when it happens.”
But at this particular time, Godwin said, “we have a unique situation and a unique opportunity in our fire department, and that’s very unfortunate for a lot of reasons. Nothing against Dale Maberry – please don’t take it that way. He’s a good guy, good fireman, good fire marshal, good assistant chief.”
Shortly before the council adjourned, District 4 councilman Dr. Richard Grossnickle raised a final question: “This retired chief, the places he has worked, were those combined fire and paramedic departments?”
Godwin said the Addison and Rowlett fire departments are. He wasn’t sure about Marble Falls.
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