New chief already restructuring Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department

Six positions are cut as part of plan to save $1 million
Firefighter candidate Matthew Maddox descends after climbing a ladder three stories during basic fire training. The new chief's reorganization means fewer battalion chiefs supervising more people.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story contained an inaccurate description of the departure of former Fire Chief Howard Willis.


New Augusta-Richmond County Fire Chief Chris James has already begun implementing his regime.

After being sworn in Feb. 13, he dissolved six positions on Friday, including Assistant Fire Chief Jack Hanley’s. Hanley had been a firefighter since 1975 and was serving as the fire department’s assistant chief for support services. Hanley had been placed on leave for sending and receiving pornographic jokes and pictures last year.

 Because Hanley’s position was part of a reduction in force, he received two full months of pay and his full pension, employment manager Onajuanita Foster said.

Under city policy, Hanley can apply for any other city position he is qualified for and automatically be considered, Deputy City Administrator Bill Shanahan said.

James’ reorganization is aimed at saving the department $1 million. Along with Hanley’s job, James dissolved three battalion chief positions, and one deputy chief position and a maintenance technician position, he said. The battalion chief and deputy chief positions were vacant.

“We are trying to be efficient and effective,” James said. “We need to be mindful of the budget.”

This year, the department received $1.7 million less from insurance tax, James said, because of the 2010 census.

In that census, the total population of Georgia went up, but Richmond County’s stayed about the same. Because the money is based on population, the department received less than some other areas.

James reduced the number of battalions from four to three, meaning the supervisors have a larger area to cover and more stations to watch. But he said that will not affect the department’s quality of service.

“It will be fine,” he said. “The engine companies will stay the same, and citizens will not see a difference in service.”

James is making one of those battalion chiefs a shift commander, Shanahan said. That supervisor will not only oversee a geographic area, but will also handle personnel issues and other important decisions.

The deputy chief position was posted Jan. 13, and James said applications will be taken for 30 days. He said the department will look at internal and external candidates to fill that spot. Right now, it is being covered by Interim Deputy Chief Richard Burts.

Another effort to budget costs will be the reduction of overtime after the hiring of more than 30 new firefighters.

The new class started on the third week of January and will be in training for a total of 25 weeks.

“We had a lot of vacancies,” James said. “In order to reduce overtime, we need to fill all vacant positions as soon as possible.”

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