The year in review: Augusta fire department still recovering from rocky year

To say 2011 has been an eventful year for the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Depart­ment would be an understatement.

Marked by retirements and suspensions of top officials under fire for various allegations, including lack of leadership and violation of city policies, the department heads into 2012 still trying to recover from this year’s misadventures.

The city has been looking for a new fire chief since the abrupt retirement in October of Howard Willis, who some inside and outside the department blamed for a lack of leadership that created morale and safety problems. His retirement was among a flurry of exits by department managers who left as the city began investigations into charges that included Willis’ brother, Tommy, using his position as battalion chief to solicit customers and promote the company he manages that secures homes after they are damaged by fire.

Tommy Willis, and deputy chiefs Mike Rogers and Carl Scott, announced their retirements on the same day. Subse­quent investigations found fire department employees, including Tommy Willis, to have violated city policies.

A reorganization of the department calls for streamlining it from four battalions to three. The change, which won’t affect fire coverage, will mean fewer supervisors.

Each battalion has three chiefs, each of whom supervises four to six fire stations. Each of the four battalions is assigned to an area of Richmond County – downtown, west, south-central and south-rural.

The search for a new chief has been narrowed to three candidates, including Interim Fire Chief Chris James. City Administrator Fred Russell said the finalists will be interviewed in January, and a decision should come before March.

The year in review: Augusta State men's golf team didn't waver in quest for back-to-back championships
The year in review: Lady Antebellum remembers Columbia County ties
The year in review: Fred Russell
The Year in Review: New buildings open to great fanfare
The year in review: Richmond County Superintendent Frank Roberson's illness put many plans on hold
3 Augusta fire chief candidates named
Augusta narrowing options for new fire chief
Augusta Fire Department making organizational changes, looking for new chief
Augusta assistant fire chief placed on paid leave for porn
Investigation finds Augusta fire department employees violated policy
Fire department findings delayed again
Acting Augusta fire chief takes on department fraught with issues
Augusta investigating fire department for pornography use, city vehicle misuse
Investigation into Augusta fire leaders continues despite retirements
More Augusta fire officials quit
Augusta fire chief stepping down, administrator says
Augusta fire battalion chief placed on administrative leave during investigation
Augusta fire battalion chief's cleanup business presents conflict
ABOUT THE SERIES

The Augusta Chronicle looks back at the big stories of 2011.

SATURDAY: The Augusta State men’s golf team showed its 2010 national title wasn’t a fluke.

SUNDAY: Lady Antebellum didn’t forget its local ties.

MONDAY: The Augusta Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse, the Kroc Center and Costco opened.

TUESDAY: City Administrator Fred Russell managed to survive controversy.

WEDNESDAY: Richmond County school Superintendent Frank Roberson missed the first half of the school year after emergency brain surgery.

TODAY: Suspensions and retirements of top officials made for an eventful year at the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department.

FRIDAY: Former Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean was convicted of child molestation.

SATURDAY: Two area law enforcement officers – Richmond County sheriff’s Deputy James D. Paugh and Aiken Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson – were killed in the line of duty.

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