Dwayne Jamison has been a firefighter nearly all his life.
Jamison’s father had been fire chief in Adairsville, so at age 13, Jamison began as a junior volunteer, working his way through the fire service with Bartow County Fire Department since 1989. Today, he is BCFD deputy chief of Operations.
In keeping with family tradition, Jamison’s own two sons — Zachary and Jody — followed their father into the fire service, ignoring Jamison’s advice to steer clear of public safety.
Answering more than 8,000 calls per year, Jamison said Bartow County Fire Department faces issues both in terms of personnel and equipment as the county continues to see growth.
But the 46-year-old deputy chief plans to meet those challenges head-on with what he refers to as his “optimistic leader” outlook.
Name: Dwayne Jamison
City of Residence: Adairsville
Education: Associate of Fire Science Technology Degree from Georgia Northwestern Technical College
Family: Wife, Tammie; oldest son, Zachary, daughter-in-law, Ashley, two granddaughters, Chloe and Zoey; youngest son, Jody, and daughter-in-law Megan
Walk me through your career path that led to the deputy chief position.
A: I began my journey in the fire service as a junior volunteer at age 13. My dad had been the fire chief for the city of Adairsville when I was growing up, and being a firefighter is all I ever wanted to do.
I became chief of the North Bartow Volunteer Fire-Rescue after graduating high school and was hired as a full-time firefighter with the Bartow County Fire Department in 1989. I worked three years at Station 3 in Euharlee and I was promoted to driver/engineer. I was transferred to headquarters for three years and was promoted to lieutenant and transferred to Station 10 in Adairsville where I served until being promoted to battalion chief in 1999. In 2008 I was again promoted to division chief of Training & Special Operations until being appointed to the deputy chief of Operations position that I currently hold.
How do you think the projected growth in Bartow will impact the service demands for BCFD?
A: As the population grows so does the demands for our services. Our Prevention Division is already growing and seeing increased demand for plan reviews and inspections of new businesses, which is a good thing because it shows signs of an improving economy.
Service demand is also increasing for the Operations Division as call volume increases. We are now responding to over 8,000 calls per year. Most people don't understand that we are understaffed with only two persons per truck. The national standard is four persons per truck; so basically, we have two people doing the work of four on the fire scene.
With all of the projected future growth, we will need to increase personnel and eventually build new fire stations to keep up with the demands for service and insure the safety of our personnel.
Technology has evolved in the fire service — BCFD has one of the few T-Rex trucks in North America, you use thermal imaging, etc. How do these changes improve the department’s capabilities and service?
A: Technology certainly has, and continually is, changing in the fire service. Utilizing existing technology where we can helps improve the efficiency of the existing resources. The T-Rex aerial truck gives us added capabilities that we would not have with a traditional ladder truck. This helps expand our capabilities for both firefighting and rescue.
The advanced technology means less work for the already understaffed crew and more productivity on the fire scene. It also gives us advanced capabilities for technical rescues that we did not have before.
Devices like the thermal imaging cameras help us search buildings for victims much faster and find hidden fires behind walls and ceilings that we could not see in the past without pulling the walls and ceilings down until we found the fire.
Advanced technology also helps us get real-time data from the field for Hazardous Material responses through laptop computers, smartphones and tablets.
Firefighter deaths are at 60 through Tuesday, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. 2014 saw 86. I know this topic is dear to your heart — how do agencies, governments and departments keep fire personnel safe?
A: We must provide our firefighters with the best equipment possible to do the job; train them and educate them so that they are proficient at using the equipment; and look out for their health and well-being. This job is literally life and death, and there is very little room for error.
We are learning new tactics to fight fires based on scientific research that we have not had in the past and applying it on the fire scene.
We are educating our members about the very real dangers of cancer in our profession. Studies have shown that firefighters are 10 times more likely to get certain types of cancer from occupational exposures than that of the general public. We need to continue to fight for Cancer Presumptive Laws in the state of Georgia to aid our firefighters that do contract the disease and provide funding to their families to assist with medical expenses. We provide annual medical exams and wellness programs for our employees as well.
Is there a call in your career that impacted you, perhaps changed you in some way?
A: I often say that firefighters see things that human beings are not supposed to see and deal with on a regular basis. There are many calls in my career that have affected me, especially those involving child fatalities. However, the one call that will always remain in my mind was my last call as a lieutenant. My partner and I responded to a call to stand by for a hostage situation for the SWAT Team. When we arrived, shots had just been fired. The victim was someone I knew and I had watched grow up from a very small child. He lost his life protecting his younger brother and a neighbor. I will never forget the sacrifice he made.
What makes Bartow County special?
A: Bartow County is rich in history and is a very unique community. We are just outside of the metro area and have many commercial and industrial areas here, but we also have a lot of beautiful farm land. Lake Allatoona and the Etowah River provide many recreational opportunities. We are a growing community that still retains its hometown closeness and appeal.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: Most people would be surprised to learn that I am a huge Notre Dame Fighting Irish fan. I was actually born on Grissom Air Force Base, just south of South Bend, Indiana. You don’t find many Irish fans in Georgia.
How does it feel to have your sons follow you into the fire service? And what was your advice to them?
A: I am very proud of both of my sons. They have both become very good firefighters. My advice to them was the same as my father’s was to me: don’t work in public safety. This is the toughest job that you will ever love, but it takes its toll on you over the years. Of course that worked with them about as well as it did with me when my dad said it. This job is a calling and not everyone is cut out for it, but when it is in your blood, so to speak, you have to try it or you will regret it for the rest of your life.
A: Home-cooked vegetables.
What would the title of your autobiography be? Why?
A: “The Optimistic Leader.” Although it has been a very rough journey with many sacrifices, I refuse to stay down when knocked down. I refuse to accept mediocrity, and do my best to set a positive example for those I have been chosen to lead. I have been blessed to work in such a brave and noble profession with great people. I am blessed to have a great supportive family, and God has blessed me beyond what I deserve in life.