Augusta fire chief stepping down, administrator says

Willis to leave after medical issues resolved, administrator says

Monday, Oct. 10, 2011 3:52 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011 8:29 AM
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Embattled Augusta Fire Chief Howard Willis is stepping down, City Administrator Fred Russell said Monday.

Augusta Fire Chief Howard Willis has been on medical leave since Sept. 14.   Staff
Staff
Augusta Fire Chief Howard Willis has been on medical leave since Sept. 14.

“He’s expressed the desire to retire upon the resolution of his medical issues,” Russell confirmed after the Augusta Commission’s committee meetings.

Willis, who did not return a call requesting comment Monday, has been on medical leave since Sept. 14, when he was taken from work to the emergency room with an unspecified medical condition. He was later treated at University Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Institute but has been resting at home under a doctor’s care since Sept. 20.

The longtime chief and Emergency Management Agency director expressed a desire “to enjoy some time with his family,” Russell said.

Willis’ move has the full support of the commission, and he’s not set to receive anything besides his regular firefighter retirement and credit for any unpaid leave time, the administrator said.

The chief, a city firefighter since 1974, was earning $101,385 annually.

Willis, who was named permanent fire chief in 2005 after a brief interim stint, has come under fire recently as several issues have become public, the first being a department policy change that pulled an aerial truck off residential fire calls south of Tobacco Road. It later was rescinded.

It was under Willis’ watch that firefighter Steven Jenne says in January he was trapped in a burning house and left with post-traumatic stress disorder because fellow firefighters broke protocol.

The department and Willis have come under additional scrutiny after The Augusta Chronicle reported that his brother, Battalion Chief Tommy Willis, has run –- without department authorization –- a company since 2007 that secures homes after they’ve been damaged by fire. Tommy Willis was placed on paid administrative leave Thursday while the city investigates those allegations and whether he used city time and materials to steer business toward his company, 1-800-BoardUp.

Deputy City Administrator Bill Shanahan said Monday that the chief should have known about his brother’s side business, and that an investigation into Tommy Willis’ activities remains open.

“At the very least, the fire chief should know because he’s the one that gives out permission,” Shanahan said.

City policy requires all employees to get authorization from their department heads before taking on outside employment.

The chief’s most vocal critic has been Charles Masters, the vice president of the Augusta Professional Firefighters Association, who blasted the city for not investigating the incident involving Jenne.

During a commission meeting when Masters detailed the incident, 87 firefighters packed the commission chamber.

Masters said he remained concerned Monday that city officials would not address issues of “leadership” that extend beyond the chief, including Acting Fire Chief Mike Rogers.

Rogers added Monday that the chief never gave his brother permission to run 1-800-BoardUp.

“To this point still, I cannot answer why” it wasn’t done, Rogers said.

Russell said the city would likely soon begin a nationwide search for Howard Willis’ replacement, as well as “review who we’ve got appointed at the moment as acting.”

“Obviously we’d be looking at all interested candidates,” Russell said.

Commissioner Matt Aitken thanked Willis for his 40 years of service but declined to comment further.

Staff Writer Tracey McManus contributed to this report.

TIMELINE

Turmoil at the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department:

JAN. 18: Firefighter Steven Jenne is trapped alone during a Dearborn Street house fire. Despite Jenne’s apparent injuries, no department or city investigation results.

AUG. 19: A new department policy to not employ Aerial Truck 4 on house fire calls south of Tobacco Road creates alarm
among southside residents and some firefighters alike.

AUG. 24: After replacing Aerial Truck 4 with
an older truck carrying ladders, the department restores the use of an aerial
truck on fire calls south of Tobacco Road.

AUG. 29: Augusta Commission member Alvin Mason grills Fire Chief Howard Willis about his job qualifications and education.

SEPT. 6: With 87 firefighters in the audience, Augusta Firefighters Association Vice President Charles Masters calls for the termination of Willis and Deputy Chiefs Carl Scott and Mike Rogers.

SEPT. 14: Willis is hospitalized overnight at
an Augusta heart center after falling ill at work.

OCT. 1: An Augusta Chronicle investigation finds that Willis’ brother, Tommy Willis, might be using his position as a battalion chief to steer customers to a board-up franchise he manages.

OCT. 6: Battalion Chief Tommy Willis is placed on paid leave while the city investigates allegations he’s using his position to promote his business.

OCT. 10: Chief Howard Willis, who remains on medical leave, agrees to retire, according to City Administrator Fred Russell.

– From staff reports

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Riverman1
82176
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Riverman1 10/10/11 - 04:03 pm
0
0
Watch the attempts to create

Watch the attempts to create a separate EMS director's position. If they do this I hope a certain person who wants it won't be selected. I say keep both jobs the duty of the chief.

firedup
0
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firedup 10/10/11 - 04:29 pm
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I think you mean EMA

I think you mean EMA position, there is a big difference in EMA and EMS.

kissofdeath
397
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kissofdeath 10/10/11 - 04:35 pm
0
0
Commissioners need to turn

Commissioners need to turn the heat up its Hell's kitchen for Fire Chief Willis' brother who need to step down next. Now, since ,Chief Willis is gone the South Augusta can have access to the two level fire trucks for two story homes in South Augusta. A couple weeks ago a two story home burned down in South Augusta because no two level fire truck were dispatched to the location. West Augusta is not the only part of the city with two story homes!!!!!!

Riverman1
82176
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Riverman1 10/10/11 - 04:40 pm
0
0
Firedup, you're right. EMA is

Firedup, you're right. EMA is what I meant, not EMS. Thanks.

But watch the politicking to give a certain someone the EMA job begin. This is going to be so revealing.

Sweet son
10051
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Sweet son 10/10/11 - 05:12 pm
0
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kissofdeath, since Chief

kissofdeath, since Chief Willis is retiring all of you nepotisim people can't play that card against the Chief's brother. Will have to come up with something new now. Good luck! Also good luck to Chief Willis. Other than it being your job and your living glad to see you made the decision to leave a department with rich history that has mutineers in the ranks!

Sweet son
10051
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Sweet son 10/10/11 - 05:14 pm
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@Riverman1. Say you think

@Riverman1. Say you think that someone wants to be the Pam Tucker of Richmond County?

Pu239
284
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Pu239 10/10/11 - 06:01 pm
0
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One would think that to
Unpublished

One would think that to accept a leadership position in our dysfunctional government, an applicant would need to exhibit strong vocational masochistic tendencies.....

Jake
32320
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Jake 10/10/11 - 06:23 pm
0
0
Best wishes on your

Best wishes on your retirement Bubba and I hope your health improves. I always thought you were a good center at Aquinas and you took a pounding like the rest of us who were too small to play offensive line. Nothing like getting pounded on the internet though.

alfrrst4
18
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alfrrst4 10/10/11 - 06:25 pm
0
0
I say bring Chief Few back,

I say bring Chief Few back, he was the smartest Chief Augusta has ever had. The real story is, no one ever talks about how bad the Fire department was before Ch. Few got there and turn it around. Remember the old yellow fire trucks that were in Augusta? Few was the one who got rid of them antique fire mechines and brought us to the 21st Century. Uniforms sucked, stations were runned down, out of shaped untrained firemen was the norm. I say bring back Ch. Few or a Community minded individual who has to knowledge to to deal with a disaster in the Heat of the Battle and not run and tuck his Tail. We got too many Chemical Plants and too many Schools here to settle for less. Wake Up Augusta!!!!!!!!!!

corgimom
31086
Points
corgimom 10/10/11 - 06:31 pm
0
0
Would that be Ronnie Few, the

Would that be Ronnie Few, the bold-faced liar, the one who created a job for his girlfriend? That Ronnie Few, who after going to Washington DC got run out of there because of his dishonesty and ineptitude?

He nearly destroyed the fire department with his insistence that blacks be promoted over more qualified white firefighters. That, plus the creation of his girlfriend's make-work job.

Of all the mistakes that Augusta has made over the years, bringing Ronnie Few back would be THE WORST.

Vito45
-2
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Vito45 10/10/11 - 06:34 pm
0
0
Yea, the brother should be

Yea, the brother should be fired on stupidity alone. Who uses their employer's email for a side business and expects to NOT get hammered for it?

Pu239
284
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Pu239 10/10/11 - 08:01 pm
0
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"The chief’s most vocal
Unpublished

"The chief’s most vocal critic has been Lynn Masters, vice president of Augusta Professional Firefighters Association" Who is Lynn Masters? I wonder why IAFF Local 3557 doesn't list the local officers?

Edit...The article has been corrected to state that Charles Masters is the VP of the Augusta Professsional Firefighters Association.

TCB22
622
Points
TCB22 10/10/11 - 07:17 pm
0
0
I hear Earl Porterfield has

I hear Earl Porterfield has been hanging in limbo since Burke County got rid of him as their fire chief years ago. Maybe he is interested.

Riverman1
82176
Points
Riverman1 10/10/11 - 08:14 pm
0
0
The union guy (Masters I

The union guy (Masters I think) did speak highly of Ronnie Few at the Commission meeting. Please tell me this all isn't a plot to get Ronnie Few back as chief.

thinbluewife
1
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thinbluewife 10/10/11 - 08:26 pm
0
0
Chief Willis worked his way

Chief Willis worked his way from the bottom up. He wasn't handed the position of Chief. I lived my entire life in south Richmond County until we moved to Columbia County several years ago. I hate that some people forget all the good that people do over the years. I understand that almost 100 firemen showed up to the commission meeting, but I know they were not told what was going to happen in its entirety. I doubt that any one will be perfect in the court of public opinion.

Cassandra Harris
-3
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Cassandra Harris 10/10/11 - 09:36 pm
0
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Jake - being an internet

Jake - being an internet comment pinata is not an easy role is it? Chief Willis, I know you were over worked with two full time positions. Good luck in your retirement. Hopefully they have learned one many can't do two full time jobs and will again hire an EMA director.

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 10/10/11 - 09:47 pm
0
0
Acting Fire Chief Mike Rogers

Acting Fire Chief Mike Rogers needs to be the next to go....he is more of a problem than Willis. How about just do away with the top 3 and bring in some true leaders.

PR
0
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PR 10/10/11 - 10:30 pm
0
0
Hiring Ronnie Few back would
Unpublished

Hiring Ronnie Few back would be the biggest mistake that Augusta could make. Few has lied his way into all the jobs he's had, and left them with his tail between his legs. Augusta FD needs a educated leader...not another good ol' boy.

sand gnat
463
Points
sand gnat 10/10/11 - 10:34 pm
0
0
Unfortunately, Augusta is

Unfortunately, Augusta is typical of small city politics. Too bad the fire chief is not an elected position. It is one of the top ten cities to live. One would hope Pam Tucker is far too wise to consider a step backwards into this mess.

peace4784
115
Points
peace4784 10/10/11 - 11:38 pm
0
0
Fred Russell should follow
Unpublished

Fred Russell should follow his example.

L A Williams
58
Points
L A Williams 10/10/11 - 11:41 pm
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My thoughts and prayers are

My thoughts and prayers are with Chief Willis and his family.

I became acquainted with Lt. Howard Willis (Bubba) in 1981when I was first employed with the Richmond County Fire Department. I learned quickly he is one of the finest, most sincere and ethical individuals anyone could hope to know. As is the case with former Mayor Larry Sconyers, I know Chief Willis as much to honorable, to react in any accusatory or vindictive nature.

Nevertheless it would be natural to suspect that extreme anxiety and stresses, resulting from the constant pressures addressing unacceptable demands in the politically correct/corrupt climates having so long consumed Augusta, would certainly culminate in the ruination of ones health.

He was a superior Firefighter in the field, and stepped to the plate often when asked. Upon being asked he assumed command of Richmond County’s first Hazmat Operation, and again when requested he assumed command of Richmond County’s EMA Operation. Bringing additional hardship and stress to his family and him.

After consolidation outsiders were brought in, political corruption flourished and the new Augusta Fire Department found itself in a state of intense crisis.

Once again, the highly respected Howard (Bubba) Willis was willing to help, and accepted the appointment as Fire Chief. Unfortunately, Chief Willis wasn’t given full authority, to audit, reorganize, and administrate the Fire Services in his recognized Professional MO. Rather, he became more of figurehead; while under Chiefs and other key personnel were designated for the Department’s primary subdivisions by political dictate, consequently foregoing and circumventing Chief Willis’ better judgment, and ultimate control.

Chief Willis has always loved the Fire Service and the Firefighters. He deserves better.
After years of using this unselfish man, I pray Augusta will finally do right by him.

A friend.

Former Lt. L. A Williams

Brad Owens
4285
Points
Brad Owens 10/11/11 - 05:34 am
0
0
Sorry and glad to hear it

Sorry and glad to hear it Bubba, you take it easy, nothing is worth your health.

As far as Few goes, he did make some changes that were good, but he also made some mistakes that were bad. We all do both.

Hope they can find someone to fill the slot.

GodisSoGood
892
Points
GodisSoGood 10/11/11 - 07:18 am
0
0
Regarding the 6:25 PM posting

Regarding the 6:25 PM posting on 10/10/11....the level of grammar (or lack thereof) speaks volumes about the level of education of Ronnie Few and his supporters. Let's not forget the major mistake on his resume that indicated he held a Bachelor's Degree...and when questioned about it, his response was that his secretary made a mistake when typing his resume. If Augusta brings him back, they will get what they deserve.

Rather
56
Points
Rather 10/11/11 - 08:19 am
0
0
Ronnie Few - the best Fire

Ronnie Few - the best Fire Chief - he had a Degree off the Internet - Got it for $39.95

elhawthorne
0
Points
elhawthorne 10/11/11 - 11:03 am
0
0
Augusta is seeking Fire

Augusta is seeking Fire Chief! 100k year. Qualifications:
1. Must have GED! (High School Diploma or Greater- Overqualified.
2. Must be 60 years old or greater. The Older the better! 40 years of experience equals Doctorate Level. 3. Must be well liked. 4. Not able to communicate Departmental needs to Elected Officials (Overrated). 5. Must not be able to prepare and present a Strategic Plan (Overrated). 6. Must be well liked. 7. Must be able to play golf. 8. Must be well liked. Fringe Benefits include: Ability to hire Family and promote family, Selective Discipline (No investigation or punishment if you are liked/related). Review of Trasncripts and Certifications is pretty much the norm now. Everyone who is qualified and Educated does not represent a replica of Chief Few. Please do not fear Education and Qualifications..This will continue to hold the Fire Service Back. Chief Few is gone, he is not the "measure" of suceess.. In this conversation of Qualified and Profesional Leadership for AFD's future his name is not relevant. He is not the measure I am referring to. He does not represent the Qualified Field of Chief Fire Officers. After all the years of service as Fire Chief, Deputy Chiefs, Assistant Chiefs, or Battalion Chief of Augusta.. You should miniumally be able to obtain the same rank or greater at a Paid Professional Department. That is the "Measure of Sucess". Stop with the Fear tactics when Qualifications and Education is mentioned. The BOC and adminstrator have already determined the qualifications needed for Postions held. Follow them! If experience is so marketable after 30 or 40 years only and no Formal Education, they have a bigger and brighter waiting after Augusta....Right??

Riverman1
82176
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Riverman1 10/11/11 - 10:26 am
0
0
As far as Ronnie Few saying

As far as Ronnie Few saying he was a college grad, didn't the Washington Post break the story that he wasn't? It slipped past all the time he was here. It was not that he had a degree from an unaccredited college, it was that he said he graduated from Morehouse and never did. That's pretty blatant.

GodisSoGood
892
Points
GodisSoGood 10/11/11 - 10:48 am
0
0
elhawthorne....you think he

elhawthorne....you think he was paid $100K a year for not working? Lest you forget the man was working 2 FULL TIME JOBS. It stands to reason that the EMA position has not been filled since the last one left because Chief Willis was performing well in both positions. As for hiring his family....he did not hire his brother. They have both worked their way up from the bottom. There is also an HR department in Richmond County that has to approve all hirings/firings to prevent the issue of showing favoritism to family and friends.

Uncle Sparky
0
Points
Uncle Sparky 10/11/11 - 11:16 am
0
0
The heafline "Chief Agrees to

The heafline "Chief Agrees to Resign" isn't exactly accurate, is it? Apparently Ch. Willis asked to be allowed to retire. Or did he? The AC slants the story to indicate that there is a back story suggesting that Mason or some other bastion of disrespect pushed the resignation. If that was the case, bring it to light. But, that wouldn't follow the script.
On another note, firemen working second jobs and conducting business on duty isn't new. Unfortunately its had to be a way of life for our firefighters. Some of our best house painters, carpenters, mechanics, and plumbers have been firemen. They wrote their station numbers on naplins, brown lunch bags, or any other thing they could grab. It was not unusual to stop by a fire station to ask for a reference for someone to fix most anything that needed fixing.
You know, Augusta politics do have a double standard. Its OK for a politicial to have his car washed at a fire station. Its OK for a private ambulance company to use public buildings and firemen to take up their slack while making a profit on the backs of these men and women. Its OK for commissioners to completely circumvent the testing and promotion procedure and have a relative show up on the FD promotion list. Its OK for a big politician to own a construction company and have that company operated out of a city office. But, Oh my Lord, don't let a little ole fireman try to make a living for himself and his family.
In passing, when is Mike Rogers going to require the personnel to remove the Gold Cross cups, pins, calendars, and other goodies from the engine houses? Or the Pierce Fire Truck Manufacturers calendars from his office. Se what I mean. Double Strandards.
As Margaret Twiggs once said, "I don't believe in innocence. There's just the caught and the uncaught!"

elhawthorne
0
Points
elhawthorne 10/11/11 - 12:56 pm
0
0
I did not state or infer he

I did not state or infer he hired is brother, I know him and his brother were hired as "firefighters" based on there on merit...You added those words. I did not state he did not hold the title of two jobs. I will not question his effiacy at either one them. I do believe with all my heart: any postion filled by any public safety agency 1. Meet and exceed the requirements posted for the position. No equivalent given for time in Service. Meet the requirement and then: give credit for time in service. Yes, I know the HR department is responsible for hiring. We are on the same page... However without being disrespectful.... I am am from the show me state when it comes to qualifications. If you have worked somewhere and are so good. When you leave that job... You should be able to transition into another Job or decline Job offers for the same level job. Obivously IAFC, IAFF and ICMA believe the same. And dont forget the private sector. Dont fear advancement or education. You can tell you have fear of educated and qualified individuals. Ever time I reference qualifications and education you refer to Ronnie Few, Is that what comes to mind every time educated and qualified is mentioned? Really you dont have to look far for the person who meet or exceed not only Augusta Standards but IAFC,IAFF, and ICMA standards for hireable. There are certain individuals inside Augusta with Graduate Level Education from a State of Georgia University, not equivalent, not unaccredited, no online, no credit by examination (Which I am doing), not out of State College from a Campus never seen until graduation (Which I am doing). While other Chief Officers were boarding up buildings, buildings houses, working part time jobs, playing GOLF, side buisness...he/she went to school for the sake of improvement with the hopes of delivering a better end product to the taxpayer. Just hard work. Fear is powerful, when you are inadequate at your trade. I want the person beside me to be promoted over me if he/she meets the qualifactions that are sought by employer. Really the employers are the Citizens who make the 100k a year who went to College and pay the High Salary of a person(s) who only have a High School Diploma or GED. It is there fight. They should be adamant to ensure the city/county employ qualified individuals. So you are not my target audience. "Mr/Mrs Taxpayer is the target audience. Let us hope that society continues to promote the brightest and smartest leaders. The body follows the head!

Sweet son
10051
Points
Sweet son 10/11/11 - 12:20 pm
0
0
Augusta Professional

Augusta Professional Firefighters Association: Huh? Where or better yet who is the President of this group? Whenever the group wants to make noise this Masters fellow is the spokesperson for the group. It would seem that the members would want their highest ranking member to speak for them. I can't even believe that Ronnie Few has come up in this thread. The APFA wants to paint Howard Willis in a bad light but Ronnie Few was always in the dark and didn't even know where the light switch was!!!!

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