Board directs mayor to begin process to hire Walls as town’s new fire chief
The Oakland Board of Mayor and Aldermen has unanimously directed the mayor to begin the process of employing Stephen Walls as the new fire chief.
Board members took the action Thursday night during their regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Kelly Rector and seconded by Alderman Billy Ray Morris.
Christopher Campbell was Oakland’s assistant fire chief for 18 months. At its Feb. 20 meeting, the board unanimously appointed him interim chief after Rudy Doyle’s Jan. 30 resignation.
Walls was one of two individuals who applied for the permanent position after Campbell resigned on April 18.
Shortly before the vote, Rector said he had discussed Walls’ qualifications with some of Oakland’s firefighters.
“They seem like they really look up to him,” he noted. “He’s got an extensive resume’, and I think he’ll be an asset to our town.”
A married father of two, Walls is a resident of Shelby County “about 8 minutes” west of Arlington.
He began his 41-year career in the fire service in 1972 as a senior in high school. While in college, he became a member of the Williamsburg, Ky., Fire Department.
After graduation, Walls was hired as an emergency medical technician for the Campbell County, Tenn., Emergency Medical Services. In 1978, he was promoted to EMS director for the county.
“Being a young man in the fire service, you always have that desire to be in a large, urban fire department,” he acknowledged. “I loved my job in Campbell County, but I had that itch.”
Because Memphis had a Class I fire department that was “nationally recognized for excellence,” Walls submitted an application. After completing the required tests, he was hired in July 1984. Within four years, he was promoted to a paramedic lieutenant.
In 1997, the U.S. Department of Defense established a number of Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces.
Because he wanted to “get involved in” Tennessee Task Force One, Walls transferred to fire suppression. He also became a member of the Memphis Fire Department’s newly organized Special Operations and Response Team.
“Basically, that is the tactical squad of the fire department,” he noted. “It gave me the opportunity for lots of additional training and sent me all over the United States to get that training.”
In 2001, Walls was promoted to Special Operations officer to direct one of the three Heavy Rescue companies in Memphis.
As a “journeyman firefighter” and a licensed paramedic, he is also certified by the Tennessee Fire Commission as a fire instructor, a 64-hour recruit training instructor and a hazardous materials technician.
Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, Walls has certifications as a medical specialist and a lead instructor. He is also a certified technician in rope, confined space, trench, structural collapse and swift water rescue, as well as a “rappel master” with the Memphis Police Department’s Aviation Unit.
Walls said he believes his primary asset is his “understanding” of the “personalities” of the volunteers, as well as the career firefighters, which he considers essential to combining the “two worlds” into a workable fire department.
“Oakland is in a situation where you gentlemen saw fit to advance the fire department by having career firefighters, for which I definitely commend you,” he told the board members. “That’s a necessity, but we also depend on the volunteer.”
While noting that Oakland has enjoyed the reputation of having a good fire department, Walls expressed certainty that it will continue in the future.
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