Public Safety Department
The first Midfield Police Department was created shortly after incorporation in 1953 and was headed by volunteer Police Chief H.H. “Curt” Kuykendall. The new Chief had a new 1954 Chevrolet patrol car and a force of 12 volunteer officers. Curt served for a year and three months before being replaced with Henry Holmes, who was the City’s first paid Police Chief.. Holmes supervised the volunteer force until 1955.
Midfield’s 1st police and fire department was located behind Williams Hardware store.
In 1954 the Mayor and Police Chief moved from offices behind Williams Hardware to a real City Hall and Police and Fire Station being converted from the old building across the corner.
James W. Morris took over in 1955 and would serve as (at least) Police Chief and most often Public Safety Director for the next 34 years.
By 1957 Chief Morris had restructured the police department to a force of four professional police officers. Under his supervision were Roy Dameron, Dan Howard, and Jack Fox. Dameron was attending the National Police Academy. From now on, all police officers would be trained. There was also a jailer in charge of a six-bunk jail, and a monitoring system tied to the Bessemer Police Department.
Within 10 more years the city had it’s own Fire Department and Chief Morris was supervising a force of 12 paid police / firefighters. Chief explained it this way in a Birmingham News article dated Wednesday, November 8, 1967:
“We find it a little more practical this way. It gives us more policemen and enough firemen. It’s not the money. The City of Midfield is operating in black ink, but if we had separate departments, six of our men would be at the fire station and six would be policemen. This way we have twelve on both.” A 20-man volunteer firefighting team also helped to make this system work.
The men were paid better than average for the double duty. “Until 1962 we were the highest paid police force in the South”, Morris said, “but the civil service pay raises caused others to go ahead of us.”
The department had some of the most modern and efficient equipment of any department in the area, and was paying $125 a month for a state-of-the-art alarm system. The system would phone all officers and volunteers in the event of an emergency.
In 1968 the department had a budget of $82,991, with two fire trucks, two patrol cars, and a motorcycle. One of the two patrol cars was replaced each year.
In 1971 the City went under the Jefferson County Personnel Board system and Morris was classified as “Public Safety Director”. All employees who worked a job that was qualified for classification were “grandfathered” into the system without having to pass an exam. Most employees would also get a raise.
The down side of this for Chief Morris was that he now had to decide who would be policemen and who would be firemen. Although both departments would be under him as Public Safety Director, he could no longer work all men in both departments.
The City now had a distinctive Police Department and Fire Department. Both located in the old City Hall on the corner of Woodward Rd. and Midfield St. (B.Y. Williams Sr. Dr.)
In 1976, Winfred E. Jackson from Fairfield Highlands got elected as Mayor on a platform to build a fire station in the Highlands. With a mandate from the people he was soon having Midfield’s first fire station built from the ground up as a fire station rather than remodeling an old building. The new station was built on a lot at the corner of 9th Avenue and 9th Street.A new fire truck was also purchased and the City was now operating two fire stations.
In 1979 the Midfield City Council voted to hire the City’s first full time fire chief. The Jefferson County Personnel Board was notified to begin the process of establishing a certified list of candidates. William Harris, a former lieutenant in the Birmingham Fire Department was hired as Midfield’s first fire chief. He reported to work on March 8, 1980 to supervise the nine firefighters in two stations.
On March 24, 1980 the City Council passed a resolution to repeal the Department of Public Safety position and replace it with separate police and fire departments. Chief Morris would be demoted to Police Chief, but his salary would remain frozen until merit increases caught up with it.
In 1981, the Highway Patrol station on the Bessemer Highway vacated their building. In keeping with stipulations in the original contract, the property went to the City of Midfield. The Police Department moved into the facility the same year, but it would be another 3 1/2 years before all of the add-ons and renovations would be ready for the new City Hall. Mayor Winfred Jackson passed away on Oct. 19, 1981 and Norton Burgess was elected by the council to fill his un-expired term.
With urging from the new fire chief, the council decided that with all departments moving from the old city hall except the fire, now would be the time to consolidate firefighting resources into one fire station that would be centrally located to serve both areas of the city equally, instead of being split into two fire stations to serve two areas. Plans were made, contracts were let and the new firestation on Woodfield Rd. (now MLK Jr. B’lvd) was officially completed on Nov. 23,1983. The other two stations closed and the Highlands Station was remodeled to become a Senior Citizens Center.
One month before the completion of the new fire station, on October 24, 1983, Mayor Norton Burgess presented ordinance No. 231 which would consolidate the Police and Fire Departments into a Public Safety Department for the second time. The ordinance was voted on and passed. Also passed that night were resolutions No.722 and 723 that made Paul R. Hak a Fire Lieutenant and demoted William M. Harris from Fire Chief to Fire Lieutenant.
Chief J.W. Morris got his old job back as Supt. Public Safety and would be over both departments again with the passage of resolution No. 724. Morris was to assume these duties on the first of November, 1983. Chief Morris would work for almost six more years before retiring on Sept. 30, 1989.
With the retirement of Chief Morris an era had come to an end. The Public Safety Director’s position would not be filled again.
( During the Martin administration an attempt to re-create the Public Safety Department was made but abandoned after Personnel Board requirements for the position proved too stringent).
With the retirement of Chief Morris and the subsequent demise of the Public Safety Department on Sept 30 of 1989, the City had totally separate police and fire departments. Lieutenant James Hayes took over the Police Department until retiring in 1994. The City then hired James R. White as the new Police Chief. White would serve as the police chief for fifteen years before retiring in 2009. Henry Dudley was named Chief of Police on Sept. 1, 2009. He remained chief until June 29, 2010.
Frank M. Belcher worked for the Fairfield Police Department for 10 1/2 years prior to transferring to Midfield in June of 2000. Since that time he has moved up in rank, going from patrolman to Sgt./Detective. Next he was promoted to Lieutenant, and occupied that position for a year. Lt. Belcher was named Chief of Police on June 29, 2010 and holds that position as of this writing.
James Keys took over the Fire Department as Captain, with Lieutenants Bubba Prantle, Paul Hack, and Tommy Roberts supervising their respective shifts. Captain Keys suffered a heart attack while on a fire call and drew Worker’s Compensation for two years. While he was off, the three Lieutenants continued supervising their shifts. When Keys resigned on Jan. 31, 1999, the Mayor and Council decided not to fill his position, but to let the Lieutenants continue to supervise. Mayor McWhorter assigned each of them an area of responsibility such as time sheets, grounds, trucks etc.
Over the next four years there would be several rotations of Fire Lieutenants as some retired and were replaced. One of these was Chris Prantle, who was working as a firefighter and moved up to Lieutenant when his father, Bubba retired in 2001. On Sept. 20, 2003 Chris Prantle was given a provisional appointment to Captain of the Midfield Fire Department.
Chris resigned in the Spring of 2005 and the running of the department went back again to the Lieutenants.Terry Hyche, Steve Lint and Bob McGuire would run the department until the hiring of the new Fire Chief.
In March of 2006, Larry Manning became the City of Midfield’s 2nd Fire Chief and is still in that position today. The department is now operating with 15 firefighters (including the Chief) and two fire trucks.