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

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

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Interim Fire Chief Chris James is among three candidates for Augusta fire chief. A decision is expected before March.   ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/FILE
Interim Fire Chief Chris James is among three candidates for Augusta fire chief. A decision is expected before March.

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 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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GodisSoGood 12/29/11 - 01:38 pm
Let by-gones be by-gones. It

Let by-gones be by-gones. It angers me to see the AC report of an "abrupt retirement" by Chief Willis...leading people to believe he left because he had done something wrong. Anyone who knows him knows he is one of the most honest people in the Augusta area. The AC loves to put a spin on things to make things appear to be something they are not. One thing is for sure, he will move on with his life, and the drama with the politicians in Augusta will continue.

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