New Columbia fire chief outlines goals for city

One of Witt’s goals is to raise awareness of fire dangers with college students.

A month after being promoted to fire chief at the Columbia Fire Department, Charles Witt has outlined his main goals for the city of Columbia.

Witt, an MU graduate with familiarity in the fire department since age 14, said his goals as fire chief revolve around having no fire deaths among students, citizens and visitors.

Witt’s prospects for Columbia comes in a two-pronged approach: one side being the practical, code-based side that includes smoke detectors and alarm systems; and the other being behavior-focused.

His behavior and awareness-focused prong is directed strongly towards students in Columbia’s influential university environment.

“Students are a high-risk group that engage in a lot of activities that are inherently dangerous, and they don’t always calculate the risk that goes with that,” Witt said. “We’re trying to put forth initiatives that will help them make educated decisions.”

One of Witt’s awareness initiatives is “Fire Factor,” within which he wants to educate students through demonstrations, like dorm test fires, fire extinguisher training and mazes that demonstrate firefighter tasks.

The fire department also has a lieutenant assistant fire marshal that devotes half of his employment time to being on MU’s campus.

“He basically works as a campus employee to teach fire safety in design and behavioral change,” Witt said. “This assistant is really the cohesive bond between the university and the department and has really helped improve relations.”

Witt said the department meets quarterly with university staff to discuss areas like residential life, administration and emergency services. He said meeting with MU administrators as well as those from Stephens College and other institutions is very important.

“We’re trying to serve the same customer, and that’s the whole university community, be it students or faculty and staff,” Witt said. “By working together, we can find ways so that our policies won’t bump heads.”

Witt said that what his new administration is trying to do is to not to change former policies but to enhance them. He said increasing awareness, potentially through social media and other forms of technology, is vital to the department making a mark in Columbia.

“Even though we’re six weeks into this, I wake up and pinch myself to make sure it’s not a dream,” Witt said. “To be in this position, to work with a group of dedicated men and women that the Columbia Fire Department has is just unbelievable.”

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