Walker County Fire Chief Randy Camp will usher in the New Year wearing a new hat.

Camp, who has led the county's fire department for 15 years is moving — but not far — and changing jobs — but not by much.

On Dec. 31, 2016, Catoosa County Fire Chief Chuck Nichols will retire and the following day will find Camp assuming that role.

Camp said the main reason for his decision to move is that he now will work in his home town.

Nichols announced his decision to retire in August, Camp applied for the job in September and his hiring was announced by Catoosa County Manager Jim Walker on Nov. 22.

"It was not an easy decision," the Walker County chief said of his move..

Let's be clear

Camp was very clear that his move has nothing to do with incoming Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield, winner of the recent election.

Camp said the commissioner-elect sounds very intelligent and should do a good job.

"Whitfield will move the county forward and will pick a good one (new fire chief) to come in behind me," Camp said.

Formerly fire chief of the Fort Oglethorpe Fire Department, Camp said he is both happy — and a little nervous — about making the jump to Catoosa but he looks forward to having the rare opportunity of ending his career where it began.

"I'm excited about that," he said.

Camp said Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell was generous to let him live in Catoosa and commute to Walker County, but he understands why some cities and counties require their chiefs to live in the area they serve.

The professional reasons for the move are very few and based around the benefit package he's offered in Catoosa, he said.

Catoosa's salary of $80,000 per year is $4,000 less than he makes in Walker, but Camp said the close proximity to his home — a 10-minute drive versus one of about 25 minutes —offsets the difference in pay.

Taking on a challenge

Camp has a reputation for improving the ISO rating of departments he has served, and . with Catoosa's at a 5 ISO rating, he see's this as a challenge.

ISO ratings range from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst, and are used to establish insurance premiums.

"It's a challenge for me, which I like," he said, regarding Catoosa's ISO 5 rating.. "A manager looks for the next challenge and that's what I'm looking forward too."

Leaving a good department

Camp praised the men and women who have served under his leadership in Walker County and said it "has been a privilege and an honor" to lead them.

The two chiefs, Nichols and Camp, will begin working together on Dec. 19 to make certain the change of command is a smooth one

While he will miss his current staff and department, the chief said he looks forward to returning to work in his home town.

An added benefit, one that will make the transition sweeter, is that he will be able to ride to work with his wife.

Josh O'Bryant is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He can be reached at the Walker County Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at jobryant@npco.com.