Investigation finds Augusta fire department employees violated policy

Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011 5:13 PM
Last updated Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011 11:03 AM
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Deputy City Administrator Bill Shanahan discusses details and findings of an investigation into policy violations at the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department.  ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
Deputy City Administrator Bill Shanahan discusses details and findings of an investigation into policy violations at the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department.

Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department employees were found to have violated policies in three of four investigations launched this month, including a battalion chief who used his position to promote a side business, Deputy City Administrator Bill Shanahan said during a news conference Wednesday.

No employees have been punished, Shanahan said, because he has to review the Augusta Personnel Policy and Procedures Manual to identify proper disciplinary action.

Shanahan and Acting Fire Chief Chris James said they are now working to ensure similar violations don’t happen in the future as the department moves on to new leadership, because four top fire chiefs have announced their retirements.

“When things like this happen, you hate it,” Shanahan said. “But the benefit of it is … we’ve been able to identify some problems, and we’re fixing them.”

In the investigation into 1-800-BoardUp, a side business managed by Battalion Chief Tommy Willis, Shanahan said employees have been promoting the business at fire scenes for four years. The violations were brought to light by an Augusta Chronicle investigation earlier this month.

City policy prohibits employees from recommending any business to residents, but firefighters have regularly called BoardUp to the scene to secure homes damaged by fires, creating an unfair advantage over competitors.

“It had been going on for a long time because four years ago, sometime in the past, someone said to do this,” Shanahan said.

Shanahan said Willis used city computers and printers for BoardUp work, which is another violation of the conflict-of-interest policy.

When interviewed, Willis said he never worked for BoardUp while on duty at the fire department but that he thought he was allowed to attend to personal business at work, which was clearly a conflicting statement, Shanahan said.

“He wasn’t being as accurate as he could be,” Shanahan said.

Because Willis submitted a retirement letter earlier this month effective Nov. 1, he won’t be disciplined.

During the investigation, Fire Chief Howard Willis, Tommy Willis’ brother, also announced he would retire after his medical leave is complete, and two deputy chiefs, Carl Scott and Mike Rogers, announced they would retire Nov. 1.

To ensure the violations don’t continue, James said he has compiled a list of all local companies that provide boarding services to be handed to homeowners at fire scenes.

In his investigation into a January house fire that left a firefighter severely injured, Shanahan confirmed several safety violations by firefighters revealed by a Chronicle article in September.

When the engine crew arrived at the house, the
homeowner initially said the fire had been extinguished. Shanahan said firefighter Steven Jenne was then asked to go into the home alone with a hand extinguisher to check, a violation of the department’s policy requiring that at least two firefighters enter a building at any time.

When Jenne realized the fire was not out and could not be controlled, he left the house and requested a hose, Shanahan said.

After Jenne re-entered the house with the crew, Shanahan said Jenne became trapped in the house filled with smoke and the required “accountability check” was never conducted to find out where he was.

After crawling through a broken window to escape, Jenne was rushed to a hospital and later diagnosed with reactive airway disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Despite his injuries, the department never filed an accident report.

Statements made by Battalion Chief John Sheridan in September conflict with Shanahan’s findings. Sheridan told The Chronicle that an investigation was ongoing but not yet completed.

James said he is now enforcing a policy that will require the department to complete an after-accident report immediately after any firefighter is injured.

Although the National Fire Protection Association recommends U.S. fire departments document all accidents and injuries, James said the Augusta Fire Department previously had no policy in place to enforce reports be done.

“That’s where the problem with administering any type of disciplinary action would be hard,” James said. “Until now, I don’t know if there was a policy to go by. I’m planning to fix it, and fix it big time.”

The third violation Shanahan confirmed was the sending and receiving of pornographic jokes and pictures by Support Services Assistant Chief Jack Hanley last year. Shanahan nor James could describe the type of image Hanley sent on city computers, and the assistant chief has not been disciplined.

An investigation into misuse of city vehicles was the one incident that Shanahan called unfounded.

Deputy Fire Chief Carl Scott had used a vehicle to attend a meeting in Columbia and stopped at his aunt’s house on the way back to Augusta to use the restroom. An anonymous person photographed Scott’s car at the home, but Shanahan said it was not a violation because Scott was there for nine minutes.

READ PAST STORIES about the Augusta-

Richmond County Fire Department investigations at augustachronicle.com.

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WET
0
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WET 10/19/11 - 05:37 pm
0
0
When do they hold Lynn

When do they hold Lynn Masters accountable for speaking out and calling this a cover up. He is the union vice president making false accusations, demoralizing the department and speaking to the public without permission.
Sounds like Masters is the problem!

Riverman1
79017
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Riverman1 10/19/11 - 05:42 pm
0
0
You've got to be kidding me.

You've got to be kidding me. Are they going to look into violations by employees of other departments too? Someone made formal complaints about these matters?

By the way, those who were predicting Chief Willis would be gone were psychic predicting his heart attack and all, I guess.

Willow Bailey
20579
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Willow Bailey 10/19/11 - 05:49 pm
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Wow, 9 minutes at his Aunt's

Wow, 9 minutes at his Aunt's house, let's lock him up. Sounds like a planted mole to force Willis out and actualize their agendas. They always have one, you know, an agenda,that is. If they didn't, you couldn't light a fire under them to look into anything.

rmwhitley
5526
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rmwhitley 10/19/11 - 07:04 pm
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0
As always, you can trust
Unpublished

As always, you can trust those on the PUBLIC payroll.

Sweet son
9649
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Sweet son 10/19/11 - 07:12 pm
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@Jack Hanley, hold firm and

@Jack Hanley, hold firm and stay with your job. The offense is not worth worrying about. Everyone who has an email account has either sent or received emails which were not in good taste!! If you have to take a letter just sign it and say you won't do it again!!! DON'T let the mutineers run you off!!! They too have probably done the same!!!

PR
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PR 10/19/11 - 08:31 pm
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Glad to see the good l' boy
Unpublished

Glad to see the good l' boy chiefs gone. Good luck to the new chief...he's got a lot of work ahead of him.

double_standard
166
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double_standard 10/19/11 - 11:31 pm
0
0
Sweet Son are u serious Chief

Sweet Son are u serious Chief Hanley is almost 80 years old. He should've retired at the most 20 years ago. Yes people have received all kinds of improper emails and text messages for that matter but that don't mean you have to forward or send them on. If you wanna point a finger I say look at Wayne Guilfoyle ask him about his promise to the union.

tanbaby
1293
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tanbaby 10/20/11 - 06:14 am
0
0
violations in city/county
Unpublished

violations in city/county government???? imagine that !!!!!

vickidu52
15
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vickidu52 10/20/11 - 08:04 am
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I have to say something after

I have to say something after this has been going on and on.....I remember years ago, before Board-up business, going to the SE Burn Center's banquet. Tommy and Debbie Willis had hurried to get to the dinner because they had been out of town for Burn Foundation Business. They were recognized for all their work for that cause. That was done by the Willis' for the Burn Foundation because being a fireman has been Tommy's way of life. When you live at a station one-third or more of your days, it IS your life, it IS your family. Tommy probably was introduced to the internet and computer log-on through having to do his reports on the department computer, thus, this was "His" communication without a second thought. These folks have lived fire and doing a board-up business is like a second step- not so much as profit but from finishing a job. I think it was his way of extending just another service from his life's work. He's been prosecuted for being a firefighter 24/7 and I hope those who do not know him will see him in another light with this said.

Willow Bailey
20579
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Willow Bailey 10/20/11 - 09:26 am
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I really don't think any

I really don't think any citizens are pointing fingers at Chief Willis. The violations reported against him and the dept. should not have occurred. However, any of the reported issues could have easily been rectified, reprimanded, and all parties reconciled.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a greater purpose at work by those in power. Hopefully, since they are cleaning up the fire department, they will take the time to measure their own performances and practices with the same stick. Now, that would be some real progress.

Little Lamb
43803
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Little Lamb 10/20/11 - 09:48 am
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From the article: [Deputy

From the article:

[Deputy City Administrator Bill] Shanahan and Acting Fire Chief Chris James said they have created training initiatives to make sure the violations don’t happen again, but that no employees have been disciplined.

Training is a good thing, but training alone will not “make sure” violations don't happen again. To make sure requires leadership. It requires supervision. It requires managers to be involved in the activities of subordinates.

Who is the ultimate authority of the fire department hierarchy? — None other than City Administrator Fred (What, me worry?) Russell. Where does he fit in among all these "investigations" going on? Well, certainly his deputy Bill Shanahan cannot investigate his own boss. County commissioners do not have the stomach to investigate, discipline, or dismiss Russell. When county commissioners even dare to question Russell he gives them the brush off; and that is an arrogant form of insubordination.

Russell is accountable to no one, and that explains his "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" approach to his job. He is taking us taxpayers to the cleaners, while laughing all the way to the bank.

Little Lamb
43803
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Little Lamb 10/20/11 - 10:26 am
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Interesting — the

Interesting — the corresponding story in the print edition is much more thorough. The above article (updated Wed. 8:49 pm) has ten paragraphs. The print edition has twenty-six paragraphs.

kmb413
533
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kmb413 10/20/11 - 10:40 am
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I believe there are more

I believe there are more wrongdoings that were never reported. Ask Lt. Tony Brown what happens when you raise questions against the administration of the Augusta Fire Dept.

newsjunkiesister
0
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newsjunkiesister 10/20/11 - 08:17 pm
0
0
Wow! City government, so

Wow! City government, so dramatic!

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