GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) – Michael Beyerstedt and his wife, Kelly, spent part of Wednesday morning meeting with Gulfport Council President Ricky Dombrowski. Beyerstedt is the mayor's choice to run Gulfport's Fire Department.
"Everything I've heard has been nothing but positive about the firefighters here, how dedicated and hard working they are," said Beyerstedt. "But I'm big on making sure that we do live up to the expectations of the community."
Beyerstedt has been serving as chief of the Jackson Fire Department in Michigan for a year and a half. He started his career there as a firefighter 22 years ago and moved through the ranks. The 48-year old Michigan native said he wants to bring his strengths in team building, community involvement, and leadership to Gulfport.
"I think a lot of the tools that I need to be successful here are in place," he said. "It's maybe focusing their efforts and providing a little leadership and a little guidance for the guys. So I'm excited about it."
He also realizes the city's tight budget and manpower concerns. That's why he's exploring various options to bring in revenue to the department. One idea is called cost recovery.
"Most home owner's insurance policies have a provision inside them that if the fire department comes to your house and puts your house fire out, they'll pay a $500 fee to the fire department that responded. Currently, I don't think that's happening here in Gulfport," he said. "I think there's going to be a lot of looking at different ways to improve things and really nothing is off the table right now."
If hired, Beyerstedt will oversee 12 fire stations in Gulfport and a staff of about 160 employees. That's more than five times the size of his current fire department. But Beyerstedt said he's ready for the challenge.
"The biggest challenge I see is an outsider coming in. There's going to be some resistance there initially here, and I understand that. I'm a hard worker, an honest guy, and the firefighters are going to get to know that about me. When I'm dealing with them, they're going to know that when I tell them something, they can believe it and count on it," he said.
If the city council approves Beyerstedt's nomination, he will take over the job in January. In August, the mayor initially chose David Foster of Georgia to be in charge of the Gulfport Fire Department. But two weeks later, Foster decided to take a similar job in Texas.