New Gary fire chief dedicated to transforming troubled city
by Lori Caldwell firstname.lastname@example.org | 648-3258 July 22, 2012 2:48PM
Gary Fire Chief Teresa Everett at City Hall in Gary, Ind. Wednesday July 18, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 24, 2012 6:04AM
GARY — She’s the first female chief to lead the Gary Fire Department, the first black female fire chief in the state and the person charged with protecting people and property in an impoverished city with crumbling stations and aging rigs.
Despite that, Fire Chief Teresa Everett remains undaunted.
“I see Gary as a city facing challenges financially similar to a city recovering from a natural disaster,” she said.
Everett said she lived in Miami when Hurricane Andrew struck there. She watched as neighborhoods rebuilt and officials found creative ways to tackle problems.
Although the situations aren’t exactly the same, Everett said, she believes Gary’s recovery will require many of the same tools used in Miami.
“I’ve been asked to do more with less. Fire and emergency medical services are very costly, and they won’t pay for themselves,” she observed. Fire departments across the country have the same problems.
The former College Park, Ga., fire chief said she was drawn to Gary because she wanted to be a part of a new administration “dedicated to the transformation of a city. It’s an opportunity to be part of a restructuring from the ground up.”
Being so close to Chicago and the endless shopping opportunities is a bonus, she chuckled.
Since she took office in April, Everett has visited most, but not all the fire stations and spoken to firefighters from every rank.
“Ninety-eight percent of the people I’ve met are dedicated professionals, dedicated to the community,” she said.
Her initial exposure to her department came on her first official day as chief, when two freight trains collided in Miller on April 9.
“It gave me an opportunity to see fire crews in action,” she said.
She’s driven around the city on her own, learning the neighborhoods and observing.
As part of her immersion into the city, Everett “adopted” the Frankie McCullough Girls’ Academy this spring and worked with Firefighters Local 359 to award new bicycles to several students.
Everett hopes to host a fire safety forum and eventually a citizens academy to educate the public about how the department works and what residents can expect.
She downplays her “first female” designation, noting firefighting has always been male-dominated.
“There’s always a period of adjustment,” she said. “I’ve been in fire service since 1985, so I’ve adjusted.”
The city has 13 fire stations, but is operating out of seven. Several need renovations, she acknowledged, adding she was impressed with the architecture of many stations.
Another priority is getting more equipment repairs and ready for the winter months.
Firefighters here traditionally have fought against reducing the number of workers on a truck or engine sent to a scene.
“But the issue is not the number of people on a piece of apparatus, it’s the number of people to get the job done,” Everett said. “That’s what I’m looking at.”