SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Savannah Fire Department has selected its newest assistant fire chief.
Elzie Kitchen, who has worn many hats throughout his more than two decades with the fire department, was chosen as assistant chief of logistics after a nationwide search.
The new assistant fire chief tells WSAV.com NOW that it still feels surreal.
“It’s still hard to believe that finally something came true that you worked hard for, that you put in the long hours for, you got the education for and to see it pay off, you know, it means a lot,” Kitchen said.
“I had a couple of guys come to me and say, ‘Chief, it’s good to see that you can start in the back seat of apparatus and then one day be up there with the top leaders of the organization,’” he added.
As the assistant chief of logistics, Kitchen’s new duties will include managing the Savannah Fire Department’s budget of $36 million, heading the training department and taking on the role of incident commander for the department’s incident management team during disasters.
The Baxley native, whose experience with the department includes specializing in hazardous materials, time as battalion chief and a stint as interim operations chief, has spent most of his life in Savannah, the city he calls home.
He now joins fellow Sol. C Johnson High School basketball teammate and current colleague William Handy as a fire department leader; Handy serves as assistant chief of operations.
“It’s awesome,” Handy said of his friend’s recent achievement. “It’s interesting how we came through the same school system, lived in the same area and were able to become a part of such a great organization in a great city.”
Kitchen was inspired to join the Savannah Fire Department in 1998 after seeing that Handy was named Firefighter of the Year. At the time, Kitchen was working as a city water distribution foreman.
“I reached out to my friend Herman, whose father was a Savannah Fire Department master firefighter,” Kitchen said.
He and his friend gained valuable experience as volunteer firefighters in Thunderbolt before joining the Savannah Fire Department, where Kitchen has risen up the ranks over the past two decades. He fought blazes across the city for 11 years.
“I miss fighting fire,” Kitchen said. “I love this part of my job, but you know, fighting fire is just a whole different animal, and I miss the camaraderie with the guys day to day, but I still go have coffee with them.”
With seven years to go until his retirement, Kitchen says he hopes through his new role, he’ll continue to serve the citizens of the Hostess City and help make his fire department an “elite, excellent organization.”
He says through the process and journey of becoming assistant fire chief, he’s realized his ability to affect and influence others.
“You never think about that part of your life when you’re coming up,” Kitchen said. “For me to have the respect of the guys on the floor and for them to show admiration, appreciation and congratulate me in accomplishing this goal, that means a lot and was very touching.”