Chris James appears to be choice for Augusta fire chief

Arizona candidate could be hired as emergency management director
Chris James has served as the Augusta Fire Department's interim fire chief since the fall.

City Administrator Fred Russell plans to name Interim Fire Chief Chris James as the next permanent fire chief, officials said Wednesday night.


Augusta officials refused to go on the record because they were not authorized to reveal Russell’s pick, but they confirmed James will be the one presented to the Augusta Commission for a vote.

The official announcement about Russell’s recommendation is scheduled for 10 a.m. today.

Commissioner Joe Jackson, who had expressed some hesitation about hiring from within the department, said late Wednesday he “can support James and (is) going to support James,” a 25-year employee, as fire chief.

The city has been without a permanent chief since the September retirements under pressure of Chief Howard Willis; his two deputy chiefs; and Willis’ brother, a battalion chief.

Since then, James has displayed a willingness to take on the department’s challenges, and showed initiative in his preparation for an interview with commissioners Tuesday, Jackson said.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham said Russell’s pick was “not necessarily my first choice,” but might become so. “I need to sit down
and reflect on these things,” he said.

A candidate who impressed several of the commissioners, Peoria, Ariz., Emergency Manager Glenn Jones, might get to return to Georgia as well.

Augusta also has a vacant position of emergency management agency director, a title that Willis held along with chief. James said during his interview that he believes EMA director should be a separate position integrated with the fire department.

“The No. 2 guy would fit in our government well,” Jackson said.

Commissioner Grady Smith said he hadn’t been informed of Russell’s recommendation, but as a businessman sees the benefits of promoting from within.

“You show the folks under you, the everyday firemen, that there’s a chance one day for a promotion for me,” Smith said.

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Fred Russell’s recommendation is not binding; it must be approved by a commission vote.



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