Now that he has the opportunity to make some changes, Augusta-Richmond County Fire Chief Chris James is altering the department’s educational requirements.
He is relaxing them on paper, acknowledging they were not enforced consistently under the previous administration.
Before Feb. 24, each rank from lieutenant on up listed a bachelor of arts or science under “job requirements,” but people were being promoted without holding the degree. James also did not agree with requiring a college degree to qualify for lieutenant but only a high school diploma for the jump to sergeant.
The only position that requires a bachelor’s degree now is the deputy chief’s position, the person directly under James.
The first two ranks past firefighter, sergeant and lieutenant, do not require any traditional education above a high school diploma. In order to qualify for captain, the applicant must have at least one year of college credit hours.
To make battalion chief, special operations chief, fire prevention captain, fire marshal or chief training officer, the applicant needs an associate’s degree or two years of college credit.
James has also created a position called the “shift commander.” That person will oversee the entire shift, including the two battalion chiefs, and be responsible for one battalion. That person also needs an associate’s degree or equivalent college credit.
“I do agree with having educational requirements,” said James, who has a master’s degree in business administration from Brenau University. “Once you start managing personnel, you do more problem-solving, presentations and report-writing. Those qualities from formal schooling are important.”
Along with numerous certifications, each promotion requires spending at least three years in the rank below.
James said he will enforce the new requirements starting with this year’s assessments for promotion, which will be the first since 2008, even though policy states they be done every two years.
He is granting a grace period, however, to allow his people to catch up to the requirements, if necessary, in most positions.
People who qualify for a promotion to a job that requires a year of college credit will have 11/2 years to get it.
For jobs requiring two years, they will have 21/2 years to get it.
The deputy chief must have a bachelor’s degree coming in, however, because in the course of four years there will be another promotion assessment.
People currently in a position without the required education will keep the rank, James said, because they were promoted before the requirements were enforced.
James hopes that firefighters moving up the ranks will see the value in having more education.
He said other fire departments he has studied are doing similar things.
“It is in line with other fire departments our size,” James said. “Once you are a manager, it is not just a technical job.”
Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay said that although there is no higher education requirement at the sheriff’s office, having college credit adds points to an applicant’s score during the promotion assessments and improves that person’s chances of being promoted.
Along with the education requirements, Augusta fire department’s promotion process includes a written test and a practical test that vary depending on the rank for which the applicant is testing.
Each applicant is ranked by score.
At the end, James is given a list ranking from the best to worst, and as the positions become available, he moves people up.
Right now, the fire department has a few high-ranking positions unfilled, including deputy chief and James’ old position, chief training officer.
He also knows there has been some grumbling among his people.
“It will be a process,” he said. “But I believe this is the best direction for this department moving forward.”