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Former Fire Chief Dr. Kelvin Cochran to speak for Presidential Leadership Series

Cochran's 30-year career includes one year serving as United States Fire Administrator. Photo: Submitted

Bob Jones University’s annual Presidential Leadership Series will feature Dr. Kelvin Cochran, senior vice president of Human Resources & Faith Initiatives for Alliance Defending Freedom and former United States Fire Administrator. The event will take place on Friday at 11 a.m. in the Founder’s Memorial Amphitorium.  

Dr. Pettit said the event, the latest installment in the Presidential Leadership Series, will be beneficial for all students. Courtney Montgomery, public relations assistant at BJU, said “[Dr. Pettit] wants to expose students to thought leaders across different fields, just so they’re aware of different things going on in the world that maybe students didn’t necessarily pay attention to otherwise.” 

Cochran, despite having a 30-year career in firefighting and experience serving as the United States Fire Administrator, was fired from his position as Atlanta Fire Chief after publishing a book that briefly discussed God’s perfect design for marriage. In a subsequent lawsuit, the city of Atlanta was fined $1.2 million for wrongfully terminating him. 

Montgomery referred to Cochran as someone “who lived out their faith in a very public way.” “Because of that, he kind of, in the end, became the face of religious liberty for a lot of people,” she said. 

During the event, Cochran will speak about his personal experience and how it affected him and his family. In a rally at the Georgia State Capitol, Cochran said, “This experience has taught me that there are worldly consequences for publicly standing for righteousness. But I stand before you to say that the kingdom consequences are far greater and more glorious than the worldly consequences.” 

At a young age, Cochran witnessed several firefighters battling a neighborhood fire and knew that he wanted to pursue the same career. He began his work as a firefighter at the Shreveport Fire Department in Louisiana and later became its fire chief. He was promoted to Atlanta Fire Chief in 2008, and President Barack Obama recognized his service and named Cochran Fire Administrator for the United States Fire Administration, where he remained for a year before returning to his position as Atlanta Fire Chief. 

While continuing his duties in Atlanta, Cochran lived out a life of faith. He published a book called Who Told You That You Were Naked? which tells how Christ is the only salvation from men’s sin and fulfillment of their purpose. In the book, Cochran describes how God’s design for sex is to be within marriage between one man and one woman. Many were angered by this declaration and accused Cochran of discrimination against homosexuals. An investigation by the city found no instances in which Cochran had discriminated against anyone during his career, but the city of Atlanta fired still him from his position. 

“He came from nothing to be a firefighter, to go all the way through the ranks to be the top fire chief in America basically, and then to lose it all because of his faith and religious beliefs . . . it’s a unique thing,” Montgomery said. 

Alliance Defending Freedom worked alongside Cochran to file a lawsuit against Atlanta for violating his rights of speech and religion. Cochran was fired for failing to receive permission to write his book. However, the court ruled that this requirement was unconstitutional and that it put restraint on free speech. In October 2018, three years after he was fired, Cochran finally received justice and over a million dollars from the city of Atlanta following the court’s ruling. 

Cochran now works alongside ADF to defend other believers who are attacked for living out their faith. “He travels across the country now telling other people his story and what happened to him, so it kind of came full circle,” Montgomery said.