Richmond Hill has a new fire chief, as City Council members voted to offer the job and its $70,000 salary to Ralph Catlett following a brief closed session at Tuesday nights’ regular meeting in City Hall.
Councilwoman Jan Bass announced the offer to Catlett, currently the senior battalion chief and second in command at the Valdosta Fire Department.
He will start work Feb. 10 and was the city’s top choice out of 60 candidates, Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler said.
“(Catlett) really stood out,” Fowler said Friday. “It was one of those unanimous things. Everyone who was in on the interviews said he was their No. 1 pick.”
Those who conducted the interviews included Fowler, Bass, Councilman John Fesperman, City Manager Chris Lovell and personnel director Pam Pendrak.
Catlett’s resume is extensive. He spent 20 years in the Air Force as a firefighter and retired as a master sergeant deputy fire chief in 1995. He earned a Bronze Star for his service in Desert Storm.
Catlett began working in Lowndes County in 1995 as fire service director, according to information provided by the city. There, Catlett was responsible for the management of nine volunteer fire departments, 16 fire stations and 252 volunteers.
He joined the Valdosta Fire Department in 2000 as a battalion chief and was responsible for managing 31 firefighters at seven stations while also playing a key role in helping the city reduce its ISO rating from 3 to 2, according to his resume.
Catlett’s arrival will end months of interim leadership at the department, which currently has about eight full-time firefighters and 20 volunteers.
He replaces longtime chief Vernon Rushing, who retired in November after more than 40 years with the department and nearly 20 as chief.
Rushing was placed on paid administrative leave in July for unspecified reasons and Capt. Andy Burriss was appointed interim chief.
Burriss, who applied for the permanent job, was fired after arrested for driving under the influence of prescription drugs in Tattnall County in October.
Since then, Capt. Mark Long, the city’s code enforcement officer, has been running the department.