SAN ANGELO, TX — Word spread quickly that San Angelo Fire Marshal Ross Coleman resigned unexpectantly Tuesday. We confirmed his resignation with the City of San Angelo Public Affairs Office. City spokesman Anthony Wilson was away at a conference and was not available for an extended comment. Standing in for Wilson while he is away was the City videographer Brian Groves who confirmed Coleman’s resignation.
We called the City of San Angelo Fire Department Chief Brian Dunn.
“Ross Coleman has done an excellent job working with the businesses in San Angelo to help them get current with the fire code. He has sent personnel in the Fire Prevention Office to the National Fire Academy to increase their abilities and certification levels, this is tremendous benefit to the citizens,” said San Angelo Fire Chief Brian Dunn in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
"He has helped move the department forward in policies and procedures to make the citizens and the fire personnel safer,” Dunn continued. “I wish him good luck in his next endeavor."
Coleman worked tirelessly to bring transparency to fire department operations and was frequently the spokesman for the fire department during fires and fire department responses. Every fire had an investigation and a cause, which his office was responsible for determining. Oftentimes, the battalion chief, who just led the firefight, was too busy or reluctant to speak with the press. Coleman would fill in, explaining to me once, “The press needs to get the correct details of the incident to craft accurate news stories. I get it.”
Coleman’s ability to provide just the facts and nothing else led to interesting news stories. There was the time when a suspicious package was discovered on the ramp into the basement parking lot of the downtown Wells Fargo Building. The bomb squad from Abilene was called while the physical box was clearly visible to the press. Coleman kept his cool and calmly explained the police and fire department’s approach to diffusing the box, later determined to contain only magazines. But until the contents of the suspicious package were known, Coleman kept the city calm using his close relationship with the press.
WATCH Fire Marshal Ross Coleman on the suspicious package in October 2015:
Coleman’s office quickly solved the case of who planted the fake bomb and a suspect was nabbed within two weeks.
Then there was the time when Coleman briefed the press on how a homeowner’s Great Dane dog knocked over a heat lamp one cold January morning, causing the fire to destroy most of the home.
Coleman’s peers in other cities across Texas harassed him for days in emails and social media posts. Coleman took it in stride. He was only giving the media the facts, such as they were, he said.
Coleman was known as a tough but fair fire inspector. As a veteran of a larger fire department in San Antonio when he arrived here, he was keen on focusing on stricter compliance with fire code laws. He explained that safety of the citizens was his primary goal and concern.
One of his first controversies happened in 2014, when Coleman held a subdivision development company accountable for constructing a secondary entrance to the Saddle Club development off Twin Mountain Drive. San Angelo Fire Chief Brian Dunn backed Coleman’s enforcement of the City Ordinance wholeheartedly.
Facing stiff opposition from a well-organized San Angelo Home Builders Association, Coleman and the fire chief argued that proper ingress and egress routes into housing subdivisions was a safety issue. HBA proponents argued Coleman was upholding them to a standard that was based upon a misinterpretation of the ordinance. And, that requiring them to build a secondary entrance would increase lot prices and hinder economic development. In the end, a compromise was reached.
Over the next four years, Coleman was known for taking a common sense approach to fire code compliance by working with building contractors, property owners, and business owners to construct common sense solutions that complied with the City fire code.
As a fire marshal, Coleman was also a law enforcement officer. He led and closed many arson investigations. The most infamous investigation was the case of the lady accused of attempting to set fire to the gas tank of a car parked in the parking lot adjacent to The Deadhorse night club. Later, one of Coleman’s arson investigators discovered a “Big Bag of Crazy” containing items consistent with starting a fire in the trunk of the Ford Mustang owned by the accused. The Chelsea Strube trial has yet to take place, but is scheduled for July 23.
Coleman was a tireless advocate for his office. Yearly, he’d advocate for more funding and resources for the fire marshal’s office. At the same time, he was keenly respectful of taxpayers’ money. One of the last times I saw Coleman on the job, he had brought his own tools to construct countertops for the new office of the fire marshal in the former bank building, now the city hall annex, on Koenigheim and W. Beauregard Ave.
In Coleman's resignation letter, he told Chief Dunn that his desire was to move back to Central Texas to be closer to his aging parents. The letter was warm, and he thanked the chief for his support and assistance over the past six-and-a-half years of his tenure. He credited Dunn for helping him place the Fire Marshal's Office in a better position among the City of San Angelo departments, by elevating salaries of personnel assigned to him without busting the budget, and improving the Fire Marshal's Office consultive approach to solving enforcement matters in the business community.
Coleman’s tenure will be remembered as one of public transparency, an advocate for tough compliance where he held high standards, and effective law enforcement. San Angelo will miss Fire Marshal Ross Coleman.
4:10 p.m. - This story was updated to include San Angelo Fire Chief Brian Dunn's remarks and contents from Fire Marshal Ross Coleman's resignation letter.