Sue Holloman has just stepped down after serving twelve years as the St Johns Fire Commissioner for Seabrook Island. The Governor appointed her to this prestigious job. Actually the Governor was the final link in the process. Sue was asked if she would be interested in serving as Commissioner by John DuBois, then Mayor of Seabrook. He recommended her to the County Council and they in turn recommended her to the Governor.
Sue was open to the idea of the job because she had been President of Seabrook Island Property Owners Association, had served on Seabrook Island Club Board and was looking around for another challenge.
Although she was interested in the position, she admits that at the time she did not know much about what the job entailed. In the beginning she kept very quiet, listening and asking questions to understand her responsibilities. She was hampered by the fact that her predecessor had left the Island and was not around to guide her.
She discovered that the Commission has oversight of the St. John Fire Department with its seven fire stations and 130 firefighters. What she needed was business knowledge, not the skills of the fire fighters. Skills of budgeting, overseeing personnel and doing evaluations which she had learned from serving as the School Principal in three schools over twenty-one years. Being a member of CERT was also helpful because the incident command trainning employed by them was also used by the fire department so she understood how they operated.
The Commission is composed today of 9 commissioners from Johns Island (4), Kiawah (3), Seabrook (1) and Wadmalaw (1). They elect their chair. The Commission supervises the Chief but the Chief has complete jurisdiction over the fire fighters. Commissioners are paid, which was a complete surprise to Sue, but she says, not enough so that anyone would want the job for the pay. However she thinks that being paid makes the position “a little more professional”.
During the time that Sue served, she admitted that there were some “rough patches”. The Johns Islanders were unhappy with how the Commission was operating and because of their lack of representation and ability to have their voices heard, Kiawah threatened to withdraw and form their own department. That would have been very bad for the rest of Johns Island. Happily the concerns were resolved when the County Council allowed Kiawah to have two additional Commissioners bringing their total up to three Commissioners. Currently Kiawah contributes the most to the Fire Department budget, Seabrook and Johns Island pay an almost equal amount and Wadmalaw’s share is minuscule.
Another prominent activity during her term was hiring a new Chief when the old one left abruptly. As Chair of the Human Relations Committee, Sue played an important role in the evaluation of candidates and hiring of the Chief. A national search committee assisted with the search. Colleen Walz, who held the position of Deputy Chief in Pittsburg, PA was chosen. She was a “wonderful” choice according to Sue.
Another accomplishment during her tenure was rebuilding Station 2 (Seabrook’s Station) and also a new headquarters. The old one was on Maybank Road. Oddly the station on Maybank Road is completely surrounded by the City of Charleston and probably will have to be abandoned at some point. The new Headquarters on Main Road has consolidated the staff and is designed as an area command center in case of large emergencies. It was used in the recent tornado on Johns Island for just that purpose.
The Commission hired a consultant to assist in drawing up a strategic plan. A Committee was formed, that included Sue, to evaluate what the Commission did and to provide a long-range plan. Also By-laws were rewritten to improve the accountability of the Commission.
When asked what was meaningful about serving as Fire Commissioner, Sue said that she had learned a great deal and liked feeling that she could be helpful by answering or finding out the answers to the many questions asked her. She liked expanding her milieu beyond Seabrook to Johns Island and Kiawah. Summing it up, she says that she has enjoyed the experience, “really liked it”.
Submitted by Sally Kimball, Tidelines Writer