By Traci Chapman
Chief Carl Hickman walked into Mustang Fire Department in 2005. Twelve years later, those who have worked with and for him say, as he prepares for his retirement this week, he leaves an agency far better than what he found.
“As a result of Chief Hickman’s work, Mustang is safer and stronger as a community,” City Manager Tim Rooney said in September, when Hickman announced his retirement. “On a personal level, he has been a loyal friend and tremendous help to my efforts to serve as a city manager – I will miss him the moment he is gone.”
Hickman leaves Mustang as the department recently achieved an Insurance Service Office rating placing the city in the top three percent of municipalities across the country; an annual fire prevention show that this year saw 18 million social media hits and national attention; and a staff some other area fire chiefs consider to be among the best in Oklahoma, if not beyond.
That staff includes new chief Craig Carruth, who officially takes charge of the department Dec. 1. Carruth left for the Emmitsburg, Maryland, National Fire Academy on Nov. 25 and will not be on hand for Hickman’s last day, but he spoke about his boss shortly after he was named Hickman’s successor.
“Chief Hickman has been more than a mentor – he’s a mentor, he’s family, he’s a friend, and he’s done more for all of us than I think he even realizes,” Carruth said.
That was a sentiment felt not only by his staff, but throughout the Mustang city family, they said.
“Chief Hickman has been so great to work with – I have so much respect for him and all the accomplishments and things he’s done for this station,” MFD executive assistant Norma Brown said. “I just really can’t say enough about the chief.”
“I am very sad to see Carl leave Mustang, but I am so happy for him and (Hickman’s wife) Jana as they start their next – and very well deserved – chapter,” said Laura Anderson, Mustang human resources director. “He knew when a good laugh was needed, and I am happy to call him friend – he’s one of the best people I have ever known in my entire life.”
While many in Mustang consider the outgoing chief a Mustang native, Hickman actually graduated from Sulphur High School, before attending Oklahoma State University. He returned to Sulphur for his first job, working as a firefighter for four years and as Sulphur Fire Department chief for another four. Hickman then worked as an Oklahoma State Fire Marshal’s office agent for three years, before returning to Sulphur for another 12-year stint as its chief.
While in Mustang, Hickman accomplished something shared by only 961 of his peers internationally at the time – his designation as chief fire officer by the Commission on ProfessionalCredentialing. It was just one aspect of a man who led a department that is looking toward a bright future made possible, in large part, by the man who led it, Rooney said.
“We could talk a long time about Chief Hickman – what he’s accomplished, all he’s done, the staff he’s built and the friends he has not just here, but everywhere he goes,” the city manager said in an interview for a 2015 profile about the chief. “But, to me the thing is – Carl Hickman has a heart bigger than that giant flag they fly during special events, and that’s something that’s very, very rare.”