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Columbia Fire Department promotes from within to find new chief


The Columbia Fire Department's acting chief has won the job on a permanent basis.

Clayton Farr Jr. on Monday was named as the next chief of the Columbia Fire Department after a nationwide search.

"During our competitive search process to fill the position of fire chief, Farr stood out as the best fit for the position due to his extensive experience in the fire service and his progressive leadership within the Columbia Fire Department," City Manager De’Carlon Seewood said in a news release.

Seewood said Farr's hiring gives the department continuity of leadership.

Farr was one of three finalists for the job announced in August. The selection process became contentious, with the city firefighters' union complaining about a lack of communication with city leaders.

Farr has been interim chief since September. He will be sworn in at a City Council meeting next Monday.

Farr has about 30 years of emergency services experience and has worked with the Columbia Fire Department since 1998.

Farr, who is Black, told ABC 17 News in February when he was named assistant chief that he'd like to see more diversity in the firefighter ranks.

"Sometimes being a man of color you're the only person who looks like you, who does what you do, who can do what you do,'' Farr said at the time. "And sometimes that comes as a significant challenge to others and I think I have been able to remain professional, do my job and be very consistent doing that."

According to a 2018 study by the National Fire Protection Association, American firehouses are 82% white and 96% male.

Farr will be paid $146,300 per year.

Farr has worked in fire and emergency services for 30 years and has been with the Columbia Fire Department since 1998.  During that time, he has been promoted through the ranks, having worked as a firefighter, assistant fire marshal, lieutenant, battalion chief, division chief/shift commander and assistant fire chief.

He has also worked as a fire investigator for the Columbia Police Department, Boone County Sheriff’s Office and the Southern Boone County Fire Protection District. He has also assisted the Mid-Missouri Bomb Squad since its inception more than 15 years ago.

"Throughout my career, I have successfully operated in each of our department’s four divisions as well as with local, state and federal fire and law enforcement partners, giving me tremendous insight as our department navigates the many challenges we face and also great excitement for the many opportunities which lie ahead."

During his time at the Columbia Fire Department, he has been responsible for managing members assigned to the emergency services division, managing the department’s training division, community risk reduction division, employee retention, recruitment, diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. He currently serves as the department’s public information officer, social media coordinator and records custodian.

Farr attended the University of Missouri and Columbia College, majoring in electrical engineering and business administration, respectively. 

Farr holds numerous certifications through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Missouri Peace Officer Standards of Training, Missouri Department of Public Safety and International Fire Service Training Association. He has completed several courses where supervision and management-level skills, conflict-resolution and decision-making were developed and refined. 

In addition to his work at CFD, Farr is an active member of the community and has served as a mentor to local youth, including members of local church groups, the local Boys and Girls Club as well as the Community Scholars Program. 

He is currently working with Columbia Public Schools on the development of a public safety curriculum to be taught at the Columbia Area Career Center to all Boone County high school students. This curriculum would allow high school students to receive public safety certifications in fire, emergency medical services, law enforcement, 911 center operations and nursing fields.

Farr said as he moves into the position of fire chief, his vision will include focusing on decisions that will improve the safety of Columbia’s residents. 

"As I move into this position, it is my goal to continue seeking opportunities to expand the fire department with additional fire stations and personnel so we are prepared to have a greater impact in meeting our citizens’ needs in a more timely manner," he said. "I want our department to be innovative in our delivery of training, not only internally, but also to our citizens and ensure our staff has the right apparatus and equipment to respond to an ever-increasing volume and complexity of emergency incidents."

Over the past several years, there have been multiple people who've served as chief at the Columbia fire department. In 2011 Chief Williams Marcgraff retired after leading the department for 22 years.  

Three other people served as fire chief since then - Charles Witt, Randy White and Andy Woody.

Clayton Farr Jr, who worked for all of those chiefs, would compete against two other finalists from across the country and take the seat as the next Columbia fire chief. 

The Columbia fire union told Abc 17 earlier this month it wanted more communication with the city as it made its decision. However, the union declined to comment Monday night on the hire.

In an interview last month Farr explained how his familiarity with the community would benefit him as chief. 

"I'm from here, I've grown up within this organization and I know the community, I know the city, I know the government, I know our partner agencies. I know how we fit into the larger puzzle of public safety," said Farr back in August.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia City Government

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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.


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