Meet Huntsville Fire & Rescue’s new deputy chiefs

single-meta-cal March 14, 2018

There are big, broad desks in adjacent offices for new inhabitants in the new Huntsville Fire & Rescue (HFR) headquarters on Clinton Avenue. Good luck keeping the office-holders behind those desks.

Tim Barnack (above right) and Derrick Stuckey (left), with a combined 53 years’ service in the department, were named last month as deputy chiefs by Chief Howard McFarlen. They replace the retired Steve Britton and David McComb.

Anything we can make better we will, but we’re already going in a good direction.”

Barnack, 55 years old, who has overseen the training program for HFR, will be tasked with much of the planning for the organization and Stuckey, 53, most recently the district chief in south Huntsville, will assist McFarlen in day-to-day operations.

“Chief Barnack plans long-term, and I’m the one to implement his plans,” Stuckey says with a wry grin. “We want to provide high-quality service to the citizens. Chief McCombs did an excellent job and I’m just taking the reins and keeping it in the middle of the road. Anything we can make better we will, but we’re already going in a good direction.”

Much like athletes who spend countless hours in grueling practice for the comparatively short time of an event, firefighters must also train extensively to be prepared.

The program administered by Barnack (and still under his indirect supervision in the new role) was both for cadets in training and for current HFR members. Firefighters are required to spend more than 210 hours a year in training, and specialized divisions – rope rescue, hazmat, etc. – many more beyond that. It means that in a typical 24-hour shift, a firefighter might well be involved in two or three hours of training.

While their focus will be on administrative duties, Stuckey proudly reminds “I still carry my bunker (firefighting gear) in my truck,” and Barnack will remain on-call for search-and-rescue missions, a particular passion for him.

Stuckey eager to ‘pass knowledge down’

His mom would claim he always had an interest in becoming a firefighter, from visiting a family friend at a local station. But Stuckey stocked shelves at Kroger’s, loaded tires at the Dunlop plant, was a self-employed builder and managed the service department at Southern Home and Hearth.

The latter wasn’t far from a fire station, and a friend-of-a-friend meeting encouraged led to a firefighters’ application 23 years ago for Stuckey, a father of four (Tristan, Remy, Miles and Kelly) with his wife Karen, a pediatric intensive care and neonatal nurse at Huntsville Hospital.

As he rose through the ranks, the foundation of the job remained strong. As he says, “It was a struggle when I made District Chief because I love to fight fire and be active.” He has gone from the front lines into a coaching role, occasionally still appearing on the scene of fires to support the crew.

He takes seriously his role as mentor, “training rookies and showing them what they can get away with as far as heat and building some confidence. What builds an aggressive, confident firefighter is being there doing it. It’s a passion to educated firefighters to become good officers one day. You’ve got to keep passing the knowledge down.”

Like many firefighters, Stuckey can share frightening stories, like the apartment fire in which he and a colleague were fully engulfed in a burning room only to have a ceiling collapse on their hose, “and the water went pffttt and completely cut off.”

Barnack’s mountain biking pays off

Barnack was “working in a factory, making widgets, and I don’t think anybody cared about that except the stockholders.” On the side, he volunteered in numerous capacities, including the rescue squad and as an EMT.  The fueled his passion to help others, and led to his applying to become a firefighter.

“And 28 ½ years later,” he says, “it’s the best choice I’ve ever made.” Let’s make that second-best; there is his wife, Kippie, to consider.

Barnack made another life-choice nearly 30 years ago. He was climbing a set of stairs “and I was winded when I got to the top. I didn’t want to be an old man.” Realizing he needed to get back in shape, he started riding a bicycle. He rides mountain bikes and road bikes, and registered 10,000 miles last year. He even won the season series for his age group in the local mountain biking club.

His trail riding has taken him all over Monte Sano. Britton used to joke that, “Not only does Barnack know all the trails, he knows the names of all the rocks.”

The “local knowledge” has paid off on several rescues on which he’s assisted – though always on foot and not on his bike.

It wasn’t long ago that a young woman began a late-afternoon hike and became disoriented. It wasn’t until late at night her boyfriend reported her missing. Barnack was called to the scene at 2 a.m. and could pinpoint from the woman’s Facebook post where her hike had begun. Though rain had since fallen, he could discern an occasional footprint, and the pawprint of the woman’s dog. He tracked her for six miles before finding her in mid-morning, cold and afraid, but safe.

That’s why, as Barnack sits behind a big new desk on a recent morning, he says of his fresh promotion, “It’s not going to take me out of the woods.”