Duggan appoints Chuck Simms as Detroit's interim fire commissioner

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan appointed Chuck Simms, a veteran of the Detroit Fire Department, as the city's interim fire commissioner Tuesday while officials conduct a nationwide search for a permanent chief. 

Duggan introduced the 35-year veteran during a press conference at the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters saying: "Simms is a Detroit success story."

Simms joined the department in 1986 at the age of 19. Since then, he's ascended the ranks from a firefighter/EMT to fire investigator lieutenant, fire investigator captain and chief of arson and fire investigations. Most recently, he's served as second deputy fire commissioner since 2016 and has overseen the fire marshal, fire investigations, communications, training and community relations divisions, the city said.

Charles Simms, the Detroit Fire Department's interim fire commissioner, answers questions from the press on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, in Detroit, Michigan.

"Detroit has molded me and has been a crucial part of my development. I am Detroit strong. I came on at the age of 19. At that age, you think you know everything, but I didn't know anything," said Simms, thanking Harold Watkins Sr., his former leader and the city’s first Black chief of the firefighting division. "I just wanted to be like him one day."

During his time as arson chief, Simms oversaw a 74% increase in the number of arrests of arson suspects, which helped contribute to a plunge in arson fires and the eventual end of an annual citywide Angel's Night campaign to prevent arson fires on Halloween.

Simms also played a role in the department's efforts to improve Detroit's standing in a national rating system that measures the city's preparedness to fight fires to set homeowner insurance rates. 

"We now have half as many arsons as we did when I started,” said Duggan, who first took office in January 2014. “Chuck Simms went on to be second deputy commissioner, running several divisions and has won the respect of everyone."

Mayor Mike Duggan appointed Chuck Simms, a 35-year veteran of the Detroit Fire Department, as the city's interim fire commissioner Tuesday while officials conduct a nationwide search for a permanent chief.

Simms, 54, replaces former Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones, whose last day with the department was Friday. Jones, 53, led the department since October 2015 and departed as "the city seeks a new direction in leadership," the mayor announced earlier this month.

In his departure, Jones celebrated improved emergency response times and the decline in arson fires. He'd also faced criticism from past union leaders who called for his ouster over controversial policies and his departure comes after fire department staff cited morale and leadership concerns in a spring assessment.

In a letter earlier this month to all department employees titled "farewell," Jones thanked department staff for their professionalism, listed various achievements, and noted that "I accept responsibility for any failures."

Duggan, who just began his third term as Detroit's mayor, said city officials are conducting a national search for Jones' permanent replacement and hope to have a commissioner in place by the spring. Simms will be compared against national candidates but has full commissioner powers for the time as interim. His salary is $160,000. 

Simms said he'd like to address morale, provide more support during the global COVID-19 pandemic and vowed "we’re going to restore the trust in the community.”

"We will continue to support the citizens by responding promptly to fires and medical emergencies with care and excellent service. Ultimately, we are here to serve the citizens of Detroit," he said. "We have to keep that focus... every decision, strategy, and policy needs to reflect and compliment the community we serve.

"Second, these last couple of years has been challenging due to the uncertainty and negative impacts of the pandemic... which has been taxing on our first responders," he said.

Simms thanked Jones for his leadership, his team, the mayor and his home team: his wife of 29 years and his two adult sons.

Simms is a native Detroiter who graduated from Pershing High School and earned his bachelor's degree in psychology and masters in education from Wayne State University. 

He spent several years as a union director, was involved in contract negotiation and served as a mediator. Simms said he's also has been trained to identify and fix inefficient systems and processes.

“He didn't forget to thank one person that helped him through the ranks. I'm hopeful he's going to keep us going in the right direction,” Detroit Fire Fighters Association President Tom Gehart said.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_