Jolivette looks to restructure, improve fire department

Roderick Jolivette looks to restructure the Douglas County Fire Department as he takes over as the new fire chief.

Roderick Jolivette’s office at the fire department headquarters is barely decorated.

Since taking over as the new fire chief a few months ago, Jolivette has been on the go.

From visiting each fire station to helping a crew wash fire trucks, Jolivette is charged with rebuilding the department’s morale.

He recently showed up on a fire call and thanked each fireman for their effort in dousing the fire.

The second day on the job, he had to perform CPR on a citizen.

“We are all in this together,” Jolivette said. “I’m getting in the mud with the team. It is very important to improve the morale.”

At the same time Jolivette looks to build morale within the ranks of his department, he also wants to win the trust of the citizens of the county.

When it was announced by the Board of Commissioners that he was chosen as the new chief, social media was abuzz after it was revealed he had been arrested once for impersonating an officer.

Those charges were dropped after it was revealed that he is a certified Peace Officer. Jolivette said he was recently deputized by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office because he is a certified arson investigator and fire inspector.

He has also sued a couple fire departments charging discrimination over their hiring practices.

“There was some bumps along the way,” Jolivette said. “There have been some circumstances that have come up. In the end, some of the same people that levied the charges against me have apologized.”

Jolivette’s focus now is restructuring the department to “meet the needs of the citizens” of the county.

He has a well-decorated 30-year career that includes membership and certification by just about every firefighter and EMT organization.

“I’m a little unique,” he said. “I do it all. I’m experienced and certified. When it comes to the citizens, I don’t play around.”

Jolivette spent 30 years with the Albany Fire Department and another seven in Manchester.

He replaces Scott Spencer, who retired last year after 44 years of service.

Jolivette said he would like to grow the next chief from within the department.

“I’m sort of on the back end of my career,” said Jolivette, a Navy veteran. “I’m looking at a five-year plan. I want to build this department from within.”

There are currently 25 recruits going through training to help fill shortfalls, which is present throughout the country.

Although he said the department will “work as one team,” Jolivette has broken the restructure down into operations, community risk and personnel operations.

Each deputy chief will be responsible for certain areas in helping make the entire department run smoothly.

“I’m starting to build those relationships,” Jolivette said. “With the department coming off furloughs, I sent each employee a card. I told them that leadership listens.”

He said he has gotten some positive feedback from within the department.

“I’ve been to fires to thank them for their work,” he said. “I’m visiting each station to let them know they are important. I want them to know that they matter and that I have an open-door policy. I’m a hands-on type leader.”

Jolivette’s eye for detail and discipline comes from serving four years on a nuclear sub during his time in the Navy.

“I want to change our culture in working with a diverse environment,” he said. “I want to engage our personnel and support staff.”

Jolivette said attracting and retaining firemen is a big priority. He said he will speak with the county leaders about instituting a sign-on bonus to attract people to the county.

During Monday’s Board of Commissioners work session, the fire department asked for about $900,000 in SPLOST funds for training and equipment improvement.

The BOC will vote on the business items during Tuesday’s regular meeting.

“I want to provide a safe environment for our fireman with updated equipment and training,” he said. “I feel we have a good team.”

He is also looking to institute a citizen task force with a representative from each commission district.

“I want to engage our citizens,” Jolivette said. “I think citizen input is important.”

While most of Jolivette’s time as a fireman has been in south Georgia, he said the opportunity to move closer to his father is what prompted him to apply for the Douglas County job.

His mother died about a year and a half ago, and his father lives in DeKalb County.

Jolivette’s wife is a teacher working in Columbus.

“My father is in relative good health,” he said. “I wanted to get closer to him. With this pandemic, I feel a need to be in this area. I also saw a department that was very attractive. I think I have the skill set that makes it a good fit.”