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‘Dedicated’ Biggs looks to the future

Will return to rank of captain after resignation as fire chief

Biggs

For the few gathered around the long table in the basement of Citizens Square on Tuesday, the topic du jour was much the same as among many government employees or curious citizens who keep their eyes on local news:

Amy Biggs.

Only, these were the members of the Consolidated Communications Partnership board, and for them, the question quickly became:

Would she show up?

And then: Who would preside over the meeting if she didn't?

But within a few minutes there was Biggs, Fort Wayne's fire chief and president of the communications board, striding into the room with her customary warm smile, ready to shake hands with everyone there.

Someone asked her if it was a good day. “Every day is a good day as long as the sun comes up,” she said.

This was one day removed from submitting her resignation as fire chief, an act that sent rumors rippling throughout local media and social networking sites.

Was she forced out?

Who did she not get along with? What were the politics involved?

Biggs and others have kept relatively mum on the reasons behind her resignation.

Her tenure will end June 1, a little less than two years from when she took the position, and she'll return to the rank of captain.

Biggs declined to comment after the communications board meeting, the last one she'll head.

Public Safety Director Rusty York said the decision to resign was Biggs' alone and that she had been considering it for some time.

Any rumors that she was coerced or forced to resign are not accurate, he said.

“Obviously, the position of police or fire chief is a stressful, 24/7 job,” York said. “It's a big decision in anyone's career.

“It's her decision, and we respect that,” he said.

York also addressed reports that Biggs clashed with City Controller Pat Roller, the wife of former Fire Chief Pete Kelly.

He called those reports not at all factual.

“I can only say that I've never experienced a controller more supportive of safety than Pat Roller,” York said.

“I think any time you have a change like this, you're going to have a lot of speculation,” he continued.

“And almost always, it's just that: speculation.”

Biggs was the first woman pegged for the chief position in the department's more than 170-year history and took over in July 2012.

Her first year on the job came with budget cuts and no money available to add firefighters.

The department did, however, do more with social media and its website to connect with residents.

Biggs was also popular with the local firefighters union, described by its president several times as a “firefighter's fire chief.”

The news of her resignation felt to union members, like others, as coming out of left field.

“It is a surprise,” said Jeremy Bush, president of the Fort Wayne Professional Firefighters Local 124.

“We've enjoyed working with Amy, we have a lot of respect for her, and she's a great representative for the city of Fort Wayne,” he added.

While Biggs' relationship with the union was rosy, the union's relationship – and to an extent, Biggs' – was not always so with the City Council.

In October, with the City Council looking over Mayor Tom Henry's proposed budget, the union took out full-page ads in The Journal Gazette alleging that cuts in overtime – to the tune of $1.2 million – would result in fewer firefighters on duty.

At the time, the department was operating with 30 fewer firefighters than the 375 it was authorized to have on its roster.

The cut in overtime, union officials said, would result in five fewer firefighters on duty at any given time despite 15 new firefighters who were being hired thanks to an income tax hike.

Ultimately, the City Council passed Henry's $147 million spending plan.

Then in March, Roller announced that fire department officials believed they needed about $800,000 more for their budget.

Those fire officials forgot to account for retirements when they calculated how many firefighters they needed to hire, Roller said at the time.

Half the money to pay for those firefighters was taken out of the parks budget, which raised the ire of some City Council members.

City Council members wanted to hear from Biggs in person about the mishap in her department's budget. Instead, York appeared before the council in her place.

Still, council members had nothing ill to say about Biggs before meeting Tuesday night.

“I really like Amy and I will miss her,” said John Shoaff, D-at large. “She is a highly competent person dedicated to her work.”

“I have a great deal of respect for her, she is the epitome of a fire chief,” said Geoff Paddock, D-5th.

John Crawford, R-at large, declined to comment.

During her last communications board meeting, Biggs went over what seemed like mundane and routine business.

The board members approved minutes from previous meetings, got an update on communication towers and heard when interviews for a deputy director of the Allen County-Fort Wayne Communications Center would begin.

At the end of Tuesday's meeting, she asked if the board moved to adjourn, then offered a few hearty and joking “ayes” into the microphone.

She shook hands again with board members, most of whom wished her well.

While she did not speak to The Journal Gazette, she offered this statement in a media release issued by the city:

“The experiences I've had during my tenure will truly be memorable for years to come,” she said in her statement.

“I stand proud to have represented the men and women of the Fort Wayne Fire Department as well as served the citizens of Fort Wayne.

“I look forward to my return to the Operations Division and the continued opportunity to make positive contributions in our community.”

Meanwhile, the city is looking to hire a new fire chief, according to York, who is involved in the process.

The aim is to move fast.

“We have quite a few qualified people on the fire department, and the next chief will come from its ranks,” York said.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

Dan Stockman of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.

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