Fire Chief honored for 30 years of service
By Toni Stauffer
Fire Chief Kris Kennedy, 53, received her award for 30 years of service from the Phenix City Council on May 8, presented to her by her mentor and former fire chief Wallace Hunter, now City Manager.
Born in Columbus to a talented seamstress mother and a father in law enforcement, Kennedy is the oldest sibling to two younger brothers and graduated from Columbus High School where she was a top notch athlete.
As a child, Kennedy didn’t know what she wanted to do when she grew up, and the thought of being a fire fighter never crossed her mind.
No one could have predicted the direction Kennedy’s life would take her. She actually worked retail after high school. Though he passed away in 1982, Kennedy still admired her father and his work, but didn’t feel law enforcement suited her. When a friend joined the Phenix City Fire Department and told her about being a fire fighter, Kennedy recognized an opportunity to serve and applied.
At the same time, her job in retail offered a promotion. Not knowing if she had a future with the fire department, Kennedy took the promotion.
Kennedy pursued higher education, earning an associate’s degree in fire science from Chattahoochee Valley Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Troy in resource technology management. She officially joined the Phenix City Fire Department as a firefighter April 10, 1989.
Kennedy credited Chief Jerry Prater with being a visionary.
“Since there had never been women in the fire department in Phenix City, Chief Prater wanted to hire two women at the same time so that we could rely on one another,” Kennedy said. “He helped make the transition a lot easier for the men and for us. It was a complete shock for the male coworkers in our department because their bathrooms and dorms had never been separated before.”
The dormitory was divided to allow for privacy. Kennedy learned that the privacy didn’t just benefit women, but that men also enjoy having their own space.
Kennedy rose through the ranks rather quickly, achieving Sergeant in 1998, Line Captain in 2002, Fire Protection Captain in March 2003, Fire Marshall in Sept. 2003, Battalion Chief in 2005, acting Deputy Chief in May 2009, acting Fire Chief in June 2009 (while still holding Marshall and Captain ranks and duties), and then Fire Chief in 2010.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Kennedy said. “They didn’t make exceptions for us, and I’m glad that they didn’t, because I want to be accepted on my own merit. I don’t want things given to me. I want to earn them.”
Kennedy resides in Waverly Hall, Ga., with her four dogs.
“Being the Fire Marshall I didn’t make a whole lot of friends,” Kennedy said. “But when I go home, I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I did the right thing. That’s the way I live and that’s the way I was brought up.”
Her favorite activity when not working is turkey hunting with her youngest brother.
“I live every year for turkey season,” she said, laughing.
She loves having fun and working in the outdoors, but in 1995, she had a serious three-wheeler accident in which her face and skull were crushed. Her recovery took three months.
“There’s no reason I should be here today,” Kennedy said. She said she prays and has a close relationship with God. “I am very fortunate,” she added.
When asked what she wanted to say to the community, Kennedy became choked up with emotion.
“You take an oath to protect the citizens. I think there are times we don’t really think about what that involves. You giving of your life, basically, to help someone else. We don’t necessarily think when we come to work that’s when it’s going to happen. I took that oath and I meant every word of it. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working for this community. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change one thing about my career and my experience here. I’ve had some bad days and some trying days, but the good far outweighs the bad.”