Interim Fire Chief Justin Hall will hold the Sand Springs Fire Department’s top post permanently, the city announced Monday.
Hall took the reins as the interim chief on Sept. 1 upon the retirement of former Chief Mike Wood.
City Manager Mike Carter said Hall was selected for the position through an internal-only process in which a board made up of three active fire chiefs from other communities, one retired chief and the city’s human resources director made a recommendation to him.
“We did have one other internal applicant who would have been an excellent option, as well,” Carter said.
Hall began in the fire service in 1995 as a volunteer. In 2001, he became a paid firefighter for the Catoosa Fire Department.
In 2005, he joined the Sand Springs Fire Department, where he served as both vice president and president of the local International Association of Fire Fighters.
He was named deputy chief in 2011.
Hall also is the city’s emergency management director.
In announcing Hall’s promotion, Carter said: “I have always had the utmost respect for Chief Hall and his dedication to service. His constant attention to the safety of our community and his loyalty to the men and women with which he serves stand out as the major reasons that he has been selected for this responsibility.”
Hall will officially take office Saturday and will be ceremonially sworn in at the next City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25.
Hall said Monday afternoon that one of his most immediate tasks is continued work on the hiring process for the department, which covers a roughly 68-square-mile area.
“There are lots of fire departments that are hiring. There have been many retirements recently. And it’s very competitive,” he said. “We have to find unique ways to get candidates to look at Sand Springs.”
Hall said he anticipates potentially having about four openings in the 36-member department between now and April.
“The number of applicants is down considerably, and it has been for several years,” he said. “We’re not the only department that’s struggling to hire.”
Hall remarked that instead of the previously typical hundreds of applicants for the initial written test, only nine people showed up recently to take the exam.
And even if all nine were to pass the written test, that’s just the beginning. In Sand Springs and many other communities, firefighter applicants also must meet physical and medical requirements, pass a physical agility test and successfully complete oral interviews.
Sand Springs applicants also must pass the “ladder climb” test — climbing up and back down a 105-foot ladder.
“I always say we all have a fear of heights,” Hall said. “It’s about how you handle it.”
Hall said he is looking forward to “continuing the progress that our Fire Department has made and the advancements that we’ve made (and) serving those who work underneath me to make sure they have the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs effectively, as well as serving the citizens of Sand Springs.”
He said he feels well-equipped to step into the new role for a number of reasons.
First, he said, “Chief Wood always kept me in the loop, and then we also have a great city staff that I can rely on.”
Hall noted that Wood — who became the city’s assistant public works director when he retired from the Fire Department — is still close by should he need any help.
He also heaped praises on a group of colleagues with whom he has been communicating for about 18 months through the Fire Service Executive Development Institute.
Hall was selected in February 2020 for the eighth cohort of the institute, a yearlong leadership-development program created and implemented by the International Association of Fire Chiefs to provide new and aspiring chiefs with the tools and skills for successful and productive tenures.
He also was awarded a scholarship that has covered many of the expenses associated with attending the program.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hall’s cohort’s training and in-person sessions have stretched out for more than a year. In between those meetings, the group has communicated online.
“It has been a valuable asset to me in terms of knowing what to expect in terms of being a chief officer,” he said Monday. “It has been invaluable to me to make those connections and have those resources.”
Hall also holds an associate of arts degree from Rogers State University and an associate of science degree in fire and emergency services from Tulsa Community College.
He is currently working to complete a bachelor’s degree in fire administration from Columbia Southern University.
Hall’s promotion marks the third major role in city government to undergo a change in the past seven months.
Carter, who had been the city’s police chief for the previous six years, became the city manager in March.
John Mars was promoted to police chief the same month, having served as the deputy chief since 2016.
Wood retired as fire chief in August, leaving the vacancy that Hall now fills.
“Yes, we are all new to our positions, but we’re very experienced in the city and well-prepared for the tasks at hand,” Carter said Monday. “I have been blessed with excellent people to work with, and I know they will do a great job.”
He added that the “feedback I have received from our citizens has been very supportive, and I think Chief Hall will meet the high expectations of our community.”