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Billings retires after 44 years of service to town

Town of Collierville 

Retiring Fire Chief Buddy Billings began his career as a 16-year-old volunteer firefighter while he was a student at Collierville High School. 44 years later, he is retiring as the Chief of the Collierville Fire Department.

“I got involved in the fire department because I had a lot of family members in the Memphis Fire Department,” said Buddy. “I never dreamed I’d be the Chief.” 

In the 1970’s, the Town’s Fire Chief, Lynn Kelsey, started a volunteer firefighter program for teenagers. During the day, many of the adult volunteers worked in downtown Memphis which made it difficult to respond to calls. Buddy and some of his friends started volunteering and doing some of the “grunt” work around the firehouse such as cleaning the fire truck and rolling hoses. 

“My first fire call was a 100-acre grass fire off Fletcher Road near the Fayette County line. It was hard work for a 17-year-old. We used pump cans to put out the fire. They were a 10-gallon can of water you wore on your back like a backpack and in this type of weather, they wore you out!” said Billings. 

Buddy’s career grew along with the Fire Department, and the entire Town. He initially was hired as a Dispatcher in 1978, then transferred to the CFD as a Fire Private in 1979. At the time, CFD was a combination of a few full-time firefighters and volunteers serving a community of 7,000 residents. Buddy was promoted to Fire Lieutenant in 1983 overseeing emergency response for a company, including the management of resources and personnel.

Just a few years later, Collierville established the paramedic program in 1986, significantly expanding lifesaving services. CFD was the first department in the state to have paramedics on fire trucks as part of their emergency response, laying the foundation for the capabilities of the program today. Buddy completed the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program at Shelby State in 1992 becoming an Advanced EMT.

“Today, on a national scale, 65-70 percent of calls for the Fire Department are medical or rescue related. Collierville is no different, and we evolved from basic first aid to licensed paramedics,” said Billings. 

He feels the shift from responding to fires to medical calls is due to the emphasis on fire education and prevention programs, which he helped grow as he continued to move up in the department.

In 1994, Buddy earned the Fire Officer Certification from the State of Tennessee Commission on Firefighting. One year later, Buddy was promoted to Fire Marshal and became a licensed inspector with the State Fire Marshal’s Office. He also served as the President of the Tennessee Fire Safety Inspector’s Association and the President of the Tennessee Public Educators Association.

Buddy served as the Fire Marshal until 2005, when he was promoted to Chief of Fire Prevention. By this time, CFD was significantly expanding fire safety education programs in schools and senior care facilities, established a smoke alarm service for residents, and reduced the ISO (Insurance Service Organization) rank to a Class 2 due to fire suppression capabilities.

In February 2016, Buddy was promoted to Interim Fire Chief following the retirement of Jerry Crawford. 

On May 9, 2016, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen named Buddy Billings as the Fire Chief for the Town of Collierville.

“There was no one else we wanted more than Buddy to be the new Fire Chief,” said Mayor Stan Joyner. “His knowledge, experience, and dedication to serving the residents of Collierville was hard to beat. We are going to miss him but wish him the best in retirement.”

In his six years serving as Chief, Buddy continued to witness the growth of the department as they made plans to build an additional fire house and manage an ambulance service. Under Buddy’s leadership, the department also received active shooter training with the police department to respond simultaneously with law enforcement to provide medical assistance.

On September 23, 2021, CFD was the first documented fire department in the nation to enter an active shooter scenario to offer lifesaving care for victims, making a significant contribution to lives saved that day.

“My proudest moment was becoming the Chief. I’ve been thinking back to when I started when I was 16, seeing how the department has grown over the years, and then ending up being the leader of the department. It was a great honor,” said Buddy.

The Fire Department hosted a reception for him on June 28 at the Morton Museum of Collierville History to give the department, family, and friends an opportunity to wish him well in his retirement. John Selberg, the former Fire Chief for the City of Germantown, will become the Collierville Fire Chief on July 1, 2022

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