“Captain Kirk” And The Need To “Grow A City” – What Makes Ronnie Roll

Most folks are aware that in late June the City Council of Athens voted to appoint long time Fire Marshall Tony Kirk to the position of Fire Chief, a vacancy which was created by the recent retirement of Danny Southard. Tony, (who has had to endure being called “Captain Kirk” since he was a kid) was brought into our interview by Mayor Marks in order to introduce him to me as well as the community.

Tony was born and raised in Limestone County, and has been involved in firefighting since 1984.He started out as a volunteer firefighter with the Oak Grove/Thach Volunteer Fire Department and told me that “back then all we had for equipment was a 1952 aircraft crash fire truck.” As any good soldier, they learned to fight well using the equipment that was available, and were not deterred from doing whatever it took to save lives and put out fires.

Tony was hired by the Athens FD in 1986, and continued to volunteer as well. During his original interview he was asked, “Where do you want to be in 10, 15, 20 years?” His response at the time was, “Chief, if I am qualified.” It took a little over 25 years, but that is exactly what has happened, and the nickname “Captain Kirk” has never been more fitting.

Chief Tony is close to completing his Bachelor’s degree in Fire Service Management, and found that the two classes which have benefitted him the most have been Tactics and Strategies, as well as the study of Building Construction. As Fire Chief he has several goals, and they are as follows: the formation of a complete fire training facility here in Athens, to build more fire stations to accommodate our city’s growing population, to be out in the community more in order to foster trust, and to be able to hire more firefighters. (As of the date of this writing, there are two firefighter positions available with the Athens FD, and those qualified are strongly urged to apply.

For his part, Mayor Ronnie had just come back from a statewide Mayor’s convention, and was pretty fired up, both by what he observed to be admirable, as well as encountering situations where there was huge room for improvement. “We have several high level department heads that are going to retire soon, and we must begin now to find their replacements,” he told me. With specific regard to the Fire Department, Mayor
Marks would like to see a part-time paid reserve unit formed as soon as funds can be allocated to do so.

He also rattled off several “take aways” from the conference. The one about which he was the most passionate was the need to be wise and avoid letting your town get stagnant. “People don’t like to think this way, but successful cities have in part become successful because they have learned to market themselves.”

So how do you “market” a town” in order to keep people interested in living in it, travelling through it, and contributing to the well-being of its citizens?” His answer, which did not surprise me at all was “refusing to grow stagnant.” I didn’t even bother to ask him, “How do you do that?” I already knew the answer: you seek to synergize, no matter what it costs you personally. Only by building relationships will we build our town. You do that, and the rest will take care of itself.
By Ali Elizabeth Turner