Starkville Fire Chief Charles Yarbrough said his goal when he became chief in 2015 was to improve Starkville’s fire ratings.
Fire ratings allow firefighters to estimate the fire danger for a given area from Level 1, low, to Level 5, extreme, and those ratings impact home insurance rates. For many years, Starkville sat at a Level 4 fire rating, but after some improvements and changes to the department, SFD gained a Level 3 rating in May 2020.
“This was something I set out to do when I first became chief, so that for sure was my proudest moment,” Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough, who has served the Starkville Fire Department for 26 years, was recently chosen as the state director of the International Fire Chief Association.
“My job as the state director is to be the liaison between the Mississippi fire chiefs, the firefighters in Mississippi and the association,” Yarbrough said. “I represent Mississippi, so if an issue comes up with a fire chief in Mississippi, and they need to get in contact with the International Fire Chiefs Association, they contact me.”
Selected by a group of fellow Mississippi fire chiefs, Yarbrough will be the first chief from Starkville to hold this position, as well as the first Black fire chief from Mississippi to serve as state director.
Being an advocate for diversity and inclusion, Yarbrough said he takes pride in getting to be the first Black director for Mississippi and plans to bring forward ideas and initiatives to make the fire sector a more inclusive environment.
“I think it speaks volumes to the changing of the nation,” Yarbrough said. “People are basically looking at you based on your skill set rather than your skin color. I just want to be a voice for people.”
Yarbrough will serve on various IFCA committees as state director, including diversity and inclusion and rules and regulations. He said he sees how this organization allows fire chiefs to come together to handle issues the county is facing in regards to fire safety and emergency services.
“For example, the way fire chiefs are handling COVID-19 throughout the nation, a lot of that direction is going to come from within the International Fire Chief Association,” Yarbrough said. “The way we go about mandates, the way we go about hiring, a lot of that information is going to come from the International Fire Chief Association.”
Along with information sharing, IFCA offers other opportunities to strengthen fire departments, such as creating officer development programs to help enhance fire departments and their officers.
Yarbrough said one IFCA program he would like Starkville to get involved with is the International Fellowship Program. This program allows firefighters from other countries to come to the United States for six months to work for an American fire department, learn U.S. fire codes and take those skills back to their home country.
“We could bring someone in from Japan or maybe an African country that is not as up to date on their fire tactics as we are,” Yarbrough said. “They would come and work with us for six months and go back home with new learning skills.”
Mississippi Fire Chief Association President Ruben Brown, Greenville’s fire chief, said several fire chiefs across the state applied to be state director, but based on Yarbrough’s experience, education and leadership, he said he knew Yarbrough was the best fit person for the position.
“Chief Yarbrough definitely has the leadership and skills to represent the Mississippi fire chiefs as the state director,” Brown said. “What he has brought to the Mississippi Fire Chief Association in the past few years assured us that he would be the perfect fit for the position.”
Mayor Lynn Spruill said she is proud of Yarbrough for not only representing Starkville, but also being the first Black Mississippian to hold the position. She said he knows he will do a wonderful job, and the city is delighted and proud of him.
“We are, as a city, very proud and not surprised at all,” Spruill said. “He is a leader in his field, and I expect that he will be a credit to the city fire department as chief, and he will do a wonderful job for the region.”
Yarbrough will attend the annual health and wellness symposium in Atlanta Jan. 14 and 15. He said he is excited to bring forward new ideas and hopes to be a strong representation for Starkville and the state.
“I’m going to take things that people give me and make sure I do a good job for Mississippi and represent the city of Starkville,” Yarbrough said.