The Oklahoma City Fire Department is an organization with many moving parts and more than 1,000 personnel.
This number includes nearly 900 employees involved in “suppression,” which includes uniform-wearing firefighters. Of that number, there are also 464 individuals who have acquired the rank of corporal, another 246 lieutenants and 159 majors.
And there are also district chiefs, battalion chiefs, and deputy chiefs. Atop this pyramid sits Fire Chief Keith Bryant, who came on the department in 1982.
A union profession, promotions are earned by years of service or internal testing.
“You have to put in so many years in whatever grade to become eligible for the next position in line, so obviously as a firefighter, the next position is driver or sergeant. You study, it's a competitive examination,” Bryant said.
“I just made that promotional list, got my promotion and then not too long after that I was eligible for captain and took that test. When I became eligible for chief, it's a little bit different in that the fire chief has some discretion in the selection of chief officers on this department.
The chief gets a list of the top scoring names, usually somewhere in the 4 to 5 range of top scorers, he does an interview, he makes a selection. So when I became a district chief, my name was sent to the chief's office, Chief Mars at the time, so that's what got me into more of the administrative aspect of the department. With people retiring and opportunities coming open, I went from district chief to deputy chief of operations division,” Bryant said.
“I was in that position for a short time and applied for this petition when it become open and obviously the city manager has something to say about that. I was appointed by Jim Couch to this petition back in 2005,” Bryant said.
“Most of my job, at this level, is working with the three deputy chiefs primarily. Three deputy chiefs, public information officer, the department safety officer are all direct reports to me. Those are the people I work with, kind of keep tabs with every day,” Bryant said.
“Overall, it's just the management of the department and that includes our budget, which is about $138 million, all of our employees and every function of the department,” Bryant said.
“Multiple alarm fires, storm damage, anything of real significance, I'm going to be there. Generally speaking, I don't come in and take charge. That's what I've got people in place to do. I think it's good for the chief of the department to show up from time to time and let the folks know I'm interested in what they're doing, I support what they do and I'm there to help too,” Bryant said.
Bryant has three deputy chiefs beneath him who handle prevention, operations and support services.
Kellie Sawyers, deputy chief and fire marshal for Oklahoma City, heads fire prevention services. This branch includes code enforcement, fire investigation and public education.
Sawyers, who became the first female chief officer in 1998, supervises 42 employees, including the department's fire investigators.
“They're highly trained, they're highly technical. All of them have come from the operations division. They were firefighters who rode a fire truck,” Sawyers said.
“Many of the staff are nationally certified in various things. They serve on national committees. Am I proud of them? You bet your bippy I am,” she said.
Richard Kelley is the deputy chief over operations, which includes all the uniformed firefighters.
“I'm over, to simplify it, the boots on the ground, the people who are out there responding and doing the training for that,” Kelley said.
“I basically have 20 direct reports to me, which is all the battalion chiefs. We have six battalion chiefs on each shift,” he said.
Another battalion chief acts as Kelley's right-hand man, he said, and the other supervises the emergency medical services division.
“Anything that's a third-alarm or greater fire-wise I'll respond to. Anything else is subjective to the type of incident. Any large-scale event I'll respond to. Everything else is handled by the battalion chiefs,” he said.
“The battalion chiefs are going to run it. That's what they do every day. I'll come in an advisory role. I'll provide assistance, give them advice or try to help them out, but unless it's growing and continuing to escalate, I'm probably not going to take command of the incident,” Kelley said.
And finally, the support services division, which is headed by Deputy Chief Chris Goodwin.
“Everything we do in my division, we support the operations of the fire department just like our title says. We're over maintaining fire stations, building new fire stations, repairing old ones, repairing apparatus and purchasing new apparatus. We're over logistics, so we purchase all the equipment for the fire department. All of our tools and our equipment, it all goes through my division,” Goodwin said.
The support services division also boasts the largest number of civilians in the department, like human resources professionals and mechanics.
He also supervises dispatchers and the chaplain, among others.
Even though they have requested, tested and earned office jobs, Chief Bryant said it's hard to take the fight out of veteran firefighters.
“I'm still very interested in the work. I've never gotten over that. I still think of myself as a firefighter, so I want to be on the fire scene. I want to be on the emergency scene,” Bryant said.
“It's hard to keep me in this chair for very long,” he said.