Augusta investigating fire department for pornography use, city vehicle misuse

Probe now includes city vehicles misuse, pornography

Add misuse of city vehicles and the dissemination of pornography on city computers to the growing list of issues under investigation at the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department.


Augusta Commissioner Joe Jackson confirmed Thursday that Deputy City Administrator Bill Shanahan was looking into allegations involving the viewing of pornography by firefighters and improper use of city vehicles among the fire department's upper ranks, four members of which announced plans to retire earlier this week.

"The allegations are out there, and Mr. Shanahan is looking into them," Jackson said.

Both Jackson and City Administrator Fred Russell said allegations of wrongdoing had been pouring in in recent days.

"It's like you opened a big box, and there are a lot of individual presents there," Jackson said.

The Augusta Chronicle last week unearthed evidence that Fire Chief Howard Willis' brother, Battalion Chief Tommy Willis, may have been using his position to steer business to a franchise called 1-800-BoardUp, which he manages for owner Bowles Construction.

Tommy Willis was placed on leave Oct. 6 while the city investigates the BoardUp allegations. On Monday, the chief, who'd been out on medical leave, announced he would retire when his leave ended. A day later, Willis' two deputy chiefs, Mike Rogers and Carl Scott, and his brother, submitted letters of retirement effective Nov. 1.

Shanahan did not return calls Thursday requesting comment about the allegations involving pornography and misuse of vehicles. Besides the BoardUp probe, he also has an investigation ongoing into a January incident in which broken protocols appear to have resulted in a firefighter being left alone in a burning house and injured.

Named acting fire chief Tuesday, Chris James has taken action on at least one of the issues.

The department has adopted a new policy regarding who to call, and who makes the call, to secure a home after it’s damaged by fire, James said.

A new flier, distributed to homeowners at the scene of a fire, lists in alphabetical order the names of four board-up companies fire victims can call to secure their home after it’s left damaged by fire, James said.

The list currently shows 1-800-BoardUp, First General Services of the CSRA, MRC Construction and Paul Davis Restoration, he said. James said other companies can ask to be added to the list.

The flier also specifies that a firefighter is not allowed to call a company, and that Augusta 911 will contact one of the companies should the homeowner not be present, James said.

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