JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Johnson City Fire Chief Jim Stables is leaving the department he’s commanded since mid-2017.
A city news release says an administrative district chief, David Bell, will take over as interim chief Friday, though Stables’ resignation isn’t effective until Jan. 1.
Stables, according to information obtained by News Channel 11, is headed to Boynton Beach, Fla. to become chief there. The release quotes him as saying, “I’ve been presented an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up, one that will further my career and serve my family well. But Johnson City will remain an important part of our lives.”
“During his tenure, Chief Stables has led tremendous improvements to the Johnson City Fire Department,” City Manager Pete Peterson said in the release. “Through educational opportunities, increased training, and restructuring, he brought stability and direction to the department that will serve us well for years to come. We are grateful for his service and wish him much success.”
In the release, Stables said Johnson Citians should be proud of their firefighters and police, “who rush toward danger,” as well as of other public servants who work for the city.
Stables took the Johnson City job after controversy surrounding his predecessor Mark Scott’s tenure. He leaves amidst an outside investigation into a formal complaint filed against Peterson by one of Stables’ employees, Roger Davis.
That complaint from Davis, the department’s fire prevention officer came following a series of emails linked to use of the old Ashe Street Courthouse to temporarily house a COVID-positive homeless person.
An email from Davis suggesting the building be inspected — which drew Peterson’s ire — came after Stables asked the several people in the email loop about the building’s use to “share their thoughts.”
Stables replaced a chief, Mark Scott, who was accused of an inappropriate management style that prompted complaints from multiple subordinates.
The aftermath of that investigation caused city commissioners to list “developing an effective employee relations strategy for the fire department” as Peterson’s second-ranked objective in his 2016 evaluation.
Coincidentally, Stables is taking the reins at a department whose chief was fired last summer amid controversy. He and the city’s public arts manager were terminated after it was found they worked together to eliminate the images of the city’s only black female firefighter and former deputy chief, and the city’s former black fire chief.
Bell, a 23-year veteran of the JCFD, has served in his current role for more than two years, overseeing budget, training and grants for the department. He holds a master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University.
“I look forward to continuing the good work the men and women of the Johnson City Fire Department have conducted under the leadership of Chief Stables,” Bell said in the release. “This first and foremost includes obtaining accreditation, which will make us the only department in the state of Tennessee to hold an ISO 1 rating and accredited status.”
The JCFD satisfied significant capital equipment needs and developed a strong partnership with Washington County EMS with Stables at the helm. Last year, the department won the Tennessee Municipal League’s Excellence in Fire Services Award.
The City will advertise the vacancy within the next couple weeks and aims to name a permanent chief by March.