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Augusta fire chief taking heat over missed air tank deadline

Thursday, May 2, 2013 7:37 PM
Last updated Friday, May 3, 2013 1:00 AM
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Augusta Fire Chief Chris James is taking heat after much of the department’s supply of compressed air cylinders missed an April 30 deadline for required testing.

The situation prompted James to borrow 52 on Wednesday from Fort Gordon’s fire department under a mutual aid agreement, drawing criticism from Augusta Firefighters Association and several Augusta commissioners.

Ensuring equipment meets safety standards is the responsibility of fire administration, association president Charles Masters said. Engine companies notified administration of the approaching deadline in March and twice again in April, he said.

“If it’s not a problem, and everything is good, why did we get 52 bottles from Fort Gordon?” he asked.

Chad Johnson, the association vice president, said he saw the tanks being swapped out Thursday and knew the situation was being addressed.

However, “it’s still a major safety concern, as far as the firefighters’ association. That is one of our main pieces of protection,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Donnie Smith, who works in public safety as a lieutenant with the Georgia State Patrol, said he was “disappointed that our administrative staff didn’t plan for this,” despite being advised earlier about the approaching deadline.

“I do think it’s serious. It had the ability to impact the lives of the firemen that are trying to take care of the community,” Smith said. “I’m sure we will discuss it at the next meeting.”

Commissioner Marion Williams, a former firefighter, said he was going to find out why the department missed the deadline. He called the city having to borrow tanks “embarrassing”.

“A fireman’s life depends on the air bottles,” he said. “Whoever is supposed to do it, they should have done it.”

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle agreed.

“This was brought up two and one-half weeks ago and it should have been a priority for the safety and welfare of the department,” he said.

James said the tanks can still be used, just not refilled without the required testing.

“Everyone would have a bottle that they could use right this minute,” he said.

The chief said he asked for the loan from Fort Gordon “just in case something was to happen.”

Nearly all the tanks reached the deadline at the same time because they were purchased at the same time, he said.

The required “hydrostatic” testing performed on the tanks ensures they have no stress cracks or damage and are fully functional, he said.

City administrators said they will continue to investigate who dropped the ball.

“One would assume that someone would have picked up on that (deadline)” City Administrator Fred Russell said. “When we find that person, we’ll take whatever corrective action is appropriate.”

Still, “Nobody seems to be in danger; nobody seems to be in harm’s way,” said Russell, a former police officer.

Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan said an e-mail was sent in March to fire administration about the deadline, but it “wasn’t real detailed.”

“We should have followed our process a little better,” Shanahan said. James is “going to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

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Gage Creed
Gage Creed 05/02/13 - 09:14 pm
That dad-burned Bubba Willis

That dad-burned Bubba Willis and 1800Boardup....

Riverman1 05/02/13 - 09:28 pm
That let's the air out of

That let's the air out of Chief James superb reputation.

Gage Creed
Gage Creed 05/02/13 - 09:38 pm
It's going to be difficult to

It's going to be difficult to keep this problem "bottled" up... someone needs to "pressure" the "regulators". At least there was no attempt to "mask" the problem.

my.voice 05/03/13 - 09:56 am
I guess he blew that

I guess he blew that off...........

JustLQQking 05/03/13 - 11:50 am
Not A Laughing Matter...

This is not a laughing matter !! His lack of responsibility as a leader and the Fire Chief put the lives of our men and women who work and volunteer with the fire departments in jeopardy. These men and women jump in a dangerous situation on a minutes notice with the assumption that the equipment they are issued is properly tested and will provide them some degree of safety while engulfed in flames and smoke while trying to save your home or business from being destroyed, or trying to save your precious pets, or better yet, trying to save YOUR life or your family members life while risking THEIR life and all you can do is make a joke about it ??!!?? I promise you that they do NOT do this job because of the pay; they do it because they have a passion and love of the job and a desire to make a difference in the community and to serve the public. As the Fire Chief, he should hold himself to the same standards, if not higher standards, than he holds his crew. He was responsible for ensuring the required testing of the equipment used by his crew was safe and adequate and he failed to meet the deadline and basically let his brothers and sisters down. While i understand we all "mess up" and are entitled to a second chance, his "mess up" could have cost one or more of our finest their life and they wouldnt have gotten a second chance on that. Just something to think about while you are busy cracking jokes. God Bless.

rmwhitley 05/03/13 - 06:19 pm
Maybe he

just forgot it because he's trying to nail Gold Cross.

QuickDraw 05/03/13 - 10:20 pm
Chief James I hope you read this along with commissioners

Chief James lets talk about your chief position for a moment. Since you have been in this position you have caused many problems within the department. Nobody trust you simply because your not a true firefighters chief. You have caused the moral in the department to be worse than it was before you took the position. You don't have what it takes to make that department what it should be. You constantly blame others instead of blaming yourself for the current issues at hand. Before you go starting crap with other departments and agencies you should clean up your own back yard.

betcha2 05/07/13 - 09:45 am
fire chief's responsibilities

Blame one man in a department wherein he MUST rely on the members in his department! If the firefighters are so concerned with their safety, why wasn't all the required checks by every station sending e-mails up the chain alerting administration of the expiration date? There is a policy in place for every piece of equipment be checked by the driver of the vehicle (including Masters' responsibilities). The equipment holds air (and so does alot of other things ..and people). The safety check on the bottles is mandated every five years PRIOR to refilling the bottles with more air. The bottles can still be used safely by firefighers. If ANY bottle runs out of air during their usage, the firefighter retrieves another bottle of air. Remember: this is a department; one man cannot do it all and unfortunately he has to RELY on personnel.... like Masters, who do not do their own tasks (checking the expiration dates on his truck) but blames others. There were many major issues that the Chief has had to deal with in his first year and much of it with shortages in staffing. Do we remember the numerous admin personnel who retired-- pretty much at one time? Support and reliable personnel is what this department needs, starting with rank and file!

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