by Martha Smith
Scottsboro City Fire Chief Gene Necklaus was recently honored by the Alabama Association of Fire Chiefs (AAFC) with the commendation of Fire Chief of the Year. Chief Necklaus has been a firefighter since 1998, when he was hired full-time after being a volunteer for a year and was appointed as Scottsboro’s sixth Fire Chief in 2014.
Since 2014, the Scottsboro Fire Department (SFD) has received over $750,000 in federal, state and private grants for vital equipment upgrades, and through the AAFC, legislation has been passed. “I have been very blessed to be involved with the AAFC. This association has provided me with a massive network of fire service professionals across the state and country. Through that we worked on several statewide projects, and the two I’m most proud of are the Residential Sprinkler legislation and the Firefighter Cancer Benefit. Over the past five years, we have learned the nature of firefighting and the repeated exposures that with it contribute to a much higher likelihood of developing certain cancers. We worked with the League of Municipalities to find a solution that would provide benefits and still allow firefighters to use their doctors of choice, as opposed to assigned case doctors like in worker’s compensation. Doing it this way also made it a considerably less expensive benefit to provide.”
Necklaus also implemented a gear cleaning and inspection program to ensure each firefighter has a clean protective hood. A recent project from a federal grant saw the diesel exhaust removal project completed, with the trucks’ exhausts connected to the removal system, keeping it from filling the bays and protecting firefighters from inhaling even more toxins on top of what they’re already exposed to on the job.
Necklaus has been humble about being the award recipient and credits everything to, “…the great people who currently and have worked at the department. Any credit I get is a direct result of the work they do and how they do it.” Necklaus stated he is working on projects frequently in Montgomery or attending meetings because he knows the people at home are capable and excel at doing their jobs, and he is able to step outside of the local circle and expand SFD’s horizons because of this. “Even more than that, they are people I trust. We trust our lives to each other, and if we make mistakes, this trust allows us to work through them and improve what we do. I don’t think most people have that at work, but it really makes my job almost easy.”
Of the award, Necklaus stated, “Receiving this award is a true honor for me. I’ve been a part of the AAFC for years and have seen so many great fire chiefs – great people, really – receive this award. I’ve tried to learn from them, how they do their jobs and what makes them successful. That wasn’t so I could get the award but so I could be better at my job. Now, to have the same recognition that so many I admire have received is very humbling. At the same time, it makes me want to be a good example for others since I know how those in the past influenced me.
Of his children, he stated, “I would hope that one day they will be proud of this award and know that I gave it my all, but I hope they think of me as a good father first. I want to leave behind much more than an award.”