It’s official. City Administrator Fred Russell is recommending that the Augusta Commission hire Interim Fire Chief Chris James as fire chief.
In a statement, Russell said James “has worked hard over the last few months, and in interviews, members of my staff who sat in confirmed my recommendations.”
James was appointed interim chief in October after abrupt retirement announcements by four in the department’s upper ranks, including Fire Chief Howard Willis.
At a news conference in the administrator’s office Thursday morning, James said it was “truly an honor” to lead the department and that ongoing reorganization plans and community outreach would be moving forward steadily.
The changes include reorganizing the department from four battalions to three, naming its second-in-command and filling battalion chief positions, Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan said.
“It’s going to be a lot of work, no doubt,” James said. “We’re going to look at the things in the (strategic) plan item by item so we can move forward. It’s not a speed boat, it’s a ship with 300-plus employees. We’re going to turn the ship and start moving forward.”
James said residents will start to notice the increased presence of the fire department and invited them to a Jan. 31 open house at new Station 10, 1054 Alexander Drive.
“We’re public servants and the people need to know what we do and know that we’re there to assist them, not just when it’s an emergency,” he said.
Commissioner Bill Lockett attended the conference and voiced his support for Russell’s recommendation. James “has been an outstanding person, an outstanding training officer and he has the utmost respect of the community and those he has supervised over the years,” Lockett said.
The administrator’s recommendation needs commission approval. The group will vote at the next meeting, Feb. 7.
A Jan. 13 interview with fire chief finalist Glenn Jones might not be the last Augusta sees of the emergency manager in Peoria, Ariz., however. Russell said he was contacting Jones about potentially serving as emergency management agency director.
Jones was well-received by several commissioners who interviewed him last week.
“I think he’s a great candidate and would add to the city,” Russell said.
EMA director, who under state law reports to the mayor, was a title also held by Willis. Fire department Special Operations Chief Wayne Taylor has held the post on an interim basis since October.
In a strategic plan for the department James presented to commissioners during his interview, he recommended enhancing the EMA office and implementing a citizens’ emergency response team.