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Fire chief grilled about department problems

Monday, May 13, 2013 9:05 PM
Last updated Tuesday, May 14, 2013 1:32 AM
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Fire Chief Chris James was back in the hot seat Monday over two recent departmental mishaps and the city's request for proposals from ambulance providers.

Augusta Commission members Marion Williams, a former firefighter, and Donnie Smith, a public safety officer, peppered James and Procurement Director Geri Sams about the city's request for ambulance services, which Sams said drew 13 vendors to a recent pre-bid conference.

“I wanted somebody who knew about ambulances, who knew about that type stuff,” Williams said, questioning who had developed the request and why it did not specify the number of ambulances the vendor is required to keep in Augusta, a number that James has said remains absent from the city's 8-year-old agreement with its current provider, Gold Cross.

James said the request for proposals, developed by himself, Sams, 911 Director Dominique Nutter and the city's medical officer, Phillip Coule, asked bidders to specify how many ambulances they would station in Augusta to maintain service levels instead of specifying a number.

Not satisfied, Williams moved, with a second from Smith, to rescind the request and have the city administrator renegotiate a contract with Gold Cross.

Commissioner Alvin Mason defended the request and its authors, saying the city was doing it now only because its agreement with Gold Cross requires nine months' notice of termination.

“It's utterly ridiculous to try and shut it down at this juncture,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said, moving, with a second from Mason, to delete Williams' motion. Both motions tied 2-2, so no action was taken.

Smith went on to question the fire chief about manpower shortages causing engine companies to be shut down and about the chief's April 30 request to borrow a supply of air tanks from Fort Gordon after most of the departments' tanks reached an inspection deadline that day.

James said that he had been relying on lower-paid firefighters to perform overtime after the department exceeded its $600,000 overtime budget last year, leading to some shortages, but that all calls were covered. A new set of recruits coming in will resolve the issue, he said.

James also defended the missed deadline, saying that word had gone around the department about the deadline for inspections required before the tanks are refilled but that he hadn't been informed until it was too late.

“You cannot refill this bottle until it has been recertified,” James said. “It does not put the bottle out of service.”

Smith continued his questions but was silenced by Lockett's motion to “call the question.” No action was taken.

James explained the recent purchase of a $770,000 aerial truck to replace one heavily damaged by an electrical fire.

Though the trucks typically are custom-ordered, the city had to buy one pre-made because it had no spare to maintain service levels.

Despite the questions, Commissioner Bill Fennoy said he maintained confidence in James, who was hired last year to replace longtime staffer Howard Willis.

“What I like about Chief James is when issues are brought to his attention, he responds,” Fennoy said. “I believe he'll put measures in place where equipment that needs to be serviced on a regular basis will be serviced prior to the expiration date.”

Smith, however, wasn't as confident.

“My concern is the safety of those men and women,” he said.

Monday's interrupted discussion about the air tanks “didn't get to the crux of the problem.”

IN OTHER ACTION

On Monday, Augusta Commission committees:

• Tasked the administrator to meet with the sheriff’s office and engineering department by Friday to develop a recommendation to help businesses needing longer than the newly enforced two-hour parking limit on Broad Street;

• Took no action on complaints from Melvin Coleman, whose small garbage company was excluded by Inland Service Corp. from a subcontract when Inland was awarded part of the city’s new solid waste collection contract.

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Riverman1
87128
Points
Riverman1 05/13/13 - 10:26 pm
1
3
Was The Questioning of James Cut-off?

If what I saw on the TV news is correct, what happened is Lockett made a motion to shut down the questioning of Chief James by Donnie Smith, saying it was hostile and belligerent questioning. The motion carried, supported by Mason.

I find that ironic after the way Mason did his drill sergeant routine on Fred Russell a while back. Grady Smith tried to end the attack by Mason if you recall.

Again, as with the thread that got out of hand slamming Mason observers by someone in the media, I’m not against Mason, but let’s be honest here.

Keep in mind, I support Army veteran Mason for mayor because I see no one better. He simply has the best background and leadership abilities to be an effective mayor of Augusta. A welcome relief after Copenhaver. I also have complete confidence in Chief James.

itsanotherday1
45493
Points
itsanotherday1 05/13/13 - 10:58 pm
2
0
Looks to me like factions

Looks to me like factions covering for factions, truth be darned. Like you RM, I haven't seen anything with James that raised my eyebrows any; but for the commissioners to protect him that way smells.

dichotomy
34495
Points
dichotomy 05/13/13 - 11:48 pm
2
1
I'm sorry but I am not

I'm sorry but I am not getting a leg tingle over Mason as many seem to be getting. He, in collusion with Lockett, shut down legitimate questioning of Chief James about current, relevant EMS issues. The way it was done looked more like protection than procedure.
.
I, for one, am extremely concerned about the ambulance service, or lack thereof, that we have in parts of this county...especially the response time to the south end, the cost, and whether they accept ALL insurance plans. We've got crappy, overpriced ambulance service that does not accept most insurance. It needs to be dumped.

PBrig822
64
Points
PBrig822 05/14/13 - 06:45 am
1
0
Smoke screen

You never here about the the multiple engines going out of service every morning, the amount of firefighters who have left and the poor leadership of the fire administration if all you hear about is the ambulance contract. You will not find another ambulance service that invests in this community like GoldCross does.

jwilliams
960
Points
jwilliams 05/14/13 - 07:44 am
1
0
How soon we forget. Some

How soon we forget. Some people have stated their displeasure with Mr. Mason and Mr. Lockett over what they consider to be collusion in the protection of Chief James. As far as collusion in the protection of someone, let’s go back to March 5, 2013 when the “Violating Three” ethics violations were being heard by the full commission, as well as many citizens of ARC. At that meeting Mr. Donnie Smith and Ms. Mary Davis did everything that they possible could in order to protect the “Violating Three,” from calling for the question to making rapid motions to censure before commissioners could ask their questions in detail. Mr. Donnie Smith stated in today’s article that Monday's interrupted discussion about the air tanks “didn't get to the crux of the problem.” Well the interruptions by you and Davis that took place on March 5, 2013 did not allow the full commission as well as the many concerned citizens of ARC to get to the crux of the problem. Again, how soon we forget.
As far as Mr. Donnie Smith interrogation of Chief James and Mr. Williams support of it concerning the Ambulance service. On February 5, 2013 during a regular commission meeting, a motion was passed approving the solicitation of competitive bids for ambulance service. It was a roll call vote and it passed 9-1. The one against was Joe Jackson and two of the nine for, were Williams and D. Smith. I know that at least one of these two have a relationship with the owner of Gold Cross ambulance service. I agree with itsanotherday 1, something does smell here and I think it has become personal against Chief James.

texsmoke
139
Points
texsmoke 05/14/13 - 07:45 am
0
0
Mason already campaigning

What bothered me the most was after meeting Mason said the meeting is why he would be a good mayor. He needs to continue being a commisioner instead of using the meetings as a campaign move. Williams and Smith brought up legitimate concerns about operations and James answers were lacking so Mason had to attempt to protect him. Yup just what we need in a mayor.

Little Lamb
47012
Points
Little Lamb 05/14/13 - 07:54 am
2
0
Breathing Air Bottles

This thing is a tempest in a teapot. Sure, the breathing air bottles are crucial to the lives of the firemen who are called upon to use them; but James is correct that when the "expiration date" occurs the air in the bottles does not become toxic. It just means the bottles should be inspected.

I think the stupid thing is that the department has almost all of the bottles expiring on the same date. They have a five year inspection cycle. I would have twenty percent of the bottles get inspection each year. That way, when the "expiration date" occurs, you are only involving twenty percent of the inventory and Donnie Smith would not get his pants in a wad.

twalker449
28
Points
twalker449 05/14/13 - 08:05 am
4
0
EMS

Gold Cross does as good a job of responding as can be expected, what with the number of ambulances available versus the huge number of calls that come in. Yes, there is a need for more units, but who will pay for the equipment, and the personnel needed to man these units? As for overpriced, the equipment on these units, as well as the units themselves, are expensive to get and to maintain, and people deserve to be paid for their efforts, I know no one works for free at any job. As for the insurance, it is untrue Gold Cross does not take most. In fact, Gold Cross accepts ALL insurance. If insurance does not pay, it is an issue you need to take up with your insurance company, not Gold Cross. A lot of insurance has begun to refuse to pay for a transport that was unneeded, such as "I don't have any other way". or "If I go by ambulance, I won't have to wait in the waiting room." The real reason this is going on is James wants the money being paid to Gold Cross for his fire service, which is in dire financial straits. He can't even keep the fire stations manned, what makes any one think he can keep up ambulances?

nocnoc
45116
Points
nocnoc 05/14/13 - 08:28 am
2
0
Well they grilled him

Was he MED-RARE or WELL DONE when they got finished?

Why do we have dept. heads in charge of Contract proposals?
A list of certain deliverable YES, but never final say or contract obligational items.

Such things should be addressed by the ARC Business Dept. and reviewed by the City Administrator, BEFORE being released as an RFP.

The RFP response, when used correctly, determines whether or not the potential bidder will be invited to submit a sealed bid that contains the actual pricing associated with a project.

GodisSoGood
954
Points
GodisSoGood 05/14/13 - 08:26 am
2
1
This circus is quite entertaining.

Give him enough rope, and he will hang himself. Perhaps they should make him serve as EMA Director while operating as Fire Chief. Let's see how well he can handle it.

lifelongresident
1323
Points
lifelongresident 05/14/13 - 08:30 am
0
0
riverman, i disagree how can
Unpublished

riverman, i disagree how can you say mason is the best candidate and most qualified when he doesn't even understand why (approx 4yrs ago) he couldn't understand why his value changed so much and didn't have the common sense to pick up his telephone and contact the property appraiser covering his area to ask why.

incidentally riverman, the reason was he purchased his house july of that year and at the time of its valuation it was only 50% completed, the following yr his property was then valued at 100% because jan 1st of the followning year his home was 100% completed....his is a moron just like the rest of the sitting commissioners (except for 1 BL)

MarinerMan
2107
Points
MarinerMan 05/14/13 - 08:38 am
1
0
This Really Does Smell
Unpublished

While Marion Williams may have been a firefighter in the past, this is also the SAME Marion Williams who said that he had a copy of Fred Russell's hard drive -- a piece of PAPER! I agree with LL - it is poor planning to have most of the air bottles expire @ the same time. BUT, this was all set into place BEFORE Chief James took over. I agree that Gold Cross does a great job in both ARC, and Columbia County. They just made the major investment in the new Stryker lifts, because we have too many fat people around here -- if you are over 300 pounds, and not 7 feet tall, you're fat. It can lift up to 700 pounds! However, all things being equal, it still does not hurt to kick the tires, to make sure we are getting the best bang for the buck. But seriously, Marion Williams !!!!!

Riverman1
87128
Points
Riverman1 05/14/13 - 08:46 am
2
0
The Upcoming Mayor's Race and I Do Mean Race

Lots of politics of the worst kind going on here. Lots of jockeying for the upcoming race for mayor. It is going to come down to a white candidate and a black one, although a second black commissioner will be encouraged to run to dilute the black vote. So it looks like Alvin Mason with Corey Johnson as the spoiler, maybe.

So who will be the white candidate? Let me be the first to throw out this name. I predict a surprise with Mary Davis. She is the only white commissioner who would even have a shot at gaining a sliver of black support. She avoids the rancor of the commission meetings.

There was something unusual about her coming out of nowhere to win the seat. She is very close to the Deke faction in the city and I imagine they backed her and will be backing her if she runs for mayor. Deke even tried to change the seating arrangements and have her seat beside his. Of course Marion Williams was having none of that.

Remember Deke came out of nowhere to win his first election for mayor. His group knows how to do it in this predominantly black city. For that election he hired pollsters and strategists from Atlanta who knew what they were doing. She will also have a mega campaign chest with the powers-that-be in Augusta backing her candidacy.

betcha2
42
Points
betcha2 05/14/13 - 10:47 am
0
0
unwarranted personal attacks

The questioning of Chief James was grandstanding on Smith's part. He is a bully and very insulting. The airtanks were still usable just not refillable UNTIL the inspection. If an incident were to take place wherein all the fire department would use all air bottles, logical thinking would be 1) not all bottles, equipment, or men would be called into service for that one area as this would leave areas without protection; and 2) we would HAVE to rely on mutual aid from surrounding counties (who would also have air bottles, equipment and men to help with such a disaster! So that line of questioniong was only to bully, harass and embarrass the chief... Shame on you Smith for your attitude and mostly for your lack of logic!
Those against the Chief has short term memory loss.... remember how terrible the department was when Chief James took over? The numerous major problems he inherited and was relied upon to solve? He has made huge improvements and most often short staffed in administration and budget. I find it ironic -you placed him in a position to solve problems and complain about it when he does. Why? Because you have an ambulance service making very good money from tax payers is upset; or because decisions are made to better the department and/or department's budget, which might make some of the personnel upset. You are going to make some uphappy when you make changes for the better and make personnel accountable. Should our commissioners be throwing common logic out the window and attack the one who DOES care?

betcha2
42
Points
betcha2 05/14/13 - 08:56 am
0
0
EMA director

Sorry, GodisSoGood- you don't have a clue and yet speak so ill .... he is currently filling the position and is a darn good Fire Chief.... with one salary...not two!

Ignorance.... can't take them anywhere...

Little Lamb
47012
Points
Little Lamb 05/14/13 - 09:06 am
0
0
Questions

You've got to admit that Donnie Smith (a law enforcement officer) is the only person on the commission who has actually had classroom training in how to question people. So, just because Commissioner Bill Lockett didn't like his questions or didn't like the manner in which the questions were phrased or didn't like the pace of the questioning should not allow him to stifle the debate. These committee meetings are where the honest debate, the honest give and take should occur. The commission meetings should largely be formalities to ratify or reject the recommendations that come out of committee meetings.

Little Lamb
47012
Points
Little Lamb 05/14/13 - 09:10 am
0
0
Another Study?

From the sidebar:

On Monday, Augusta Commission committees tasked the administrator to meet with the sheriff’s office and engineering department by Friday to develop a recommendation to help businesses needing longer than the newly enforced two-hour parking limit on Broad Street.

Is it really so hard? If you must park your vehicle for longer than two hours, just park somewhere other than Broad Street. You can even help your city out by parking in the new Marriott parking deck on Reynolds Street and pay the parking fee. If you don't want to do that there is an abundance of free parking all over downtown, in spite of what Queen Margaret says.

Riverman1
87128
Points
Riverman1 05/14/13 - 09:21 am
0
0
Lockett and the "Call to Question"

At a previous Commission meeting, Bill Lockett brought up the parlimentary procedure question of how to end debate. The "call to question" procedure was defined and agreed on. I wondered what that was all about. They apparently were preparing to use it in this case and others.

Riverman1
87128
Points
Riverman1 05/14/13 - 09:24 am
0
0
Too bad "the call to

Too bad "the call to question" procedure wasn't used in the past. I remember poor Andy Cheek finally walking out of a commission meeting after Willie Mays and others had been showing slides of the commission trip to Hawaii for a couple of hours and eating taxpayer provided snacks.

dickworth1
954
Points
dickworth1 05/14/13 - 09:30 am
1
1
Corrupt government
Unpublished

Richmond county and Washington DC, a lot in common, both administrations are the most corrupt in history. Blacks are voting strictly racial lines nationally and locally. The so called black Christians are backing a president that covers up illegal acts, supports same sex marriages, abortions, and praises the gay people and tries to make heroes for their immoral acts. Black preachers need to get back to God's word and forget what color the person is and work toward saving
lost souls, which obliviously this country has more of than Christians.

QuickDraw
62
Points
QuickDraw 05/14/13 - 09:41 am
0
1
Here We Go With The Race Game

Here we go again with the Race Game. Look if it would have been a white guy that dropped the ball on the air cylinders he would have received 2 days off without pay no questions asked. Look Chief James degree has shown it does not help manage the fire service. He has no clue and he steel says the cylinders can be used even after hydro.NOT TRUE. ITS NOT RECOMMENDED. His management in training division reflex on his current position.He did nothing there and he not doing nothing now but blowing smoke and sucking up quality oxygen. Chief James has no backing from anyone on the department. If you commissioners dont get your heads out of your butt the Fire Department is going to go deeper into a hole. As the Joker said in BATMAN this Fire Department needs an ENIMA. Commissioners you need to set your racial judgements to the side and think about whats best for Augusta and its Fire Department. Chris James leadership is tanking the AFD Budget do you wonder why? Its because nobody wants to work for him and his Admin. THE MAIN WORD FOR TODAY IS TURNOVER RATE.

Old Timmer
260
Points
Old Timmer 05/14/13 - 09:47 am
0
0
Most have short memories

How soon you forget that Donnie Smith was elected by the support of the RC Firefighters Assoc. (union). He is now their mouthpiece on the commission. Of course he will attack the fire chief over anything the union wants him too. It was this union that brought the air bottle issue to the media even though a correction plan was already being implemented.

Little Lamb
47012
Points
Little Lamb 05/14/13 - 09:52 am
1
0
Ending Debate

I find this paragraph from the story curious:

Smith continued his questions but was silenced by Lockett's motion to “call the question.” No action was taken.

It would seem to me that action was taken. Lockett's motion passed. Passage of Lockett's motion ended debate. Closing debate is action.

Little Lamb
47012
Points
Little Lamb 05/14/13 - 10:33 am
1
0
Odd Man Out

They need to make a rule that if an even number of members show up to a committee meeting, just don't bother to even start the meeting up. Look what happened about the ambulances:

Lockett makes a motion with Mason seconding to accept Geri Sams’ bid proposal package and have it sent out for bid.

Williams makes a substitute motion with Smith seconding to withdraw Sams’ bid proposal package and instead just have Fred (What, me worry?) Russell negotiate a contract with Gold Cross as sole source.

Lockett calls the question. The vote is 2-2, so Williams’ substitute motion fails. Then they vote 2-2 on Lockett’s original motion and it fails.

We are back to square one.

betcha2
42
Points
betcha2 05/14/13 - 10:50 am
1
0
making changes

Human nature makes it hard for individuals to change...it puts them out of their comfort zone. The fire department was plagued with serious problems which Chief James inherited and was expected to solve. He has education and experience along with common logic (sense). He moves the department forward, correct problems the department was plagued with, makes changes because of budgetary constraints in managing overtime, makes personnel accountable for their actions, and addresses outside problems that come with the position, people want to complain. Now complaints are coming from dealings with an ambulance company milking tax payers and "their" Comissioners who favor this particular company; from employees who don't like being made accountable for their actions; and employees who don't like the changes made necessitated by budget constraints because they can't rig a system of making more money through overtime, which was the case prior to Chief James tenture. Naturally these individuals are going to complain, their "free ride" of high pay is on the line... and the UNION's president wants to control the fire department. If he doesn't like something, anything he is vocal, abusive, vile and a bully who runs to his "friend" Commissioner. It is no wonder they get along... two of a kind... instead of providing support to the Chief, the Commissioner would rather attack the Chief without full information or use of logic. Such as badgering the Chief about the air bottles. The Chief has explained the air and bottles were still usable...just couldn't get refilled until inspection. That wasn't enough for Smith.... he was trying to bully, harass and embarass the Chief... use logic... Never would all of the bottles, equipment, and men be at one scene, leaving other areas totally unprotected! In an event the size it would take to use all supplies of air bottles at one time, would entail using mutual aid, who have air bottles, equipment and men from surrounding counties. The large scale event would demand use of additional help! Commissioners are NOT the fire chief... you hired a intelligent, honest, and hardworking person for that position. Let him do his job and support moves to advance the department. Stop with the personal conflicts of interest some commissioners have.

Riverman1
87128
Points
Riverman1 05/14/13 - 11:49 am
0
0
Haha, on LL's odd man out.

Haha, on LL's odd man out.

traumaqueen
48
Points
traumaqueen 05/14/13 - 02:16 pm
1
1
I am not only a citizen of

I am not only a citizen of Richmond Co but I'm also a member of the GC EMS/RCFD family & I think this issue of what's best for the citizens is being disregarded in this "pee-ing" match. We are at an all time high "save rate". This is the result of great skills, top of the line equipment, rapid response and treatment, and TEAMWORK. The white shirts on both sides need to set their egos aside, stop trying to one up each other, play nice, & focus on the safety and wellbeing of their employees first and foremost. We need the resources, equipment, & manpower to do our jobs, period. Where has there been an epic fail on EMS services? There hasn't. Is Chris James wanting to leave his mark on Augusta by taking over EMS? Sure he does. Do any of our firefighters want to take over EMS? Haha NO! The very first rule of EMS/Fire is safety: am I safe & is my crew safe. We are here to provide a service to the community but when we put our boots on & walk out the door our GOAL is to return home to our family. Back to the basics: keep us SAFE by providing us with what we need to do our jobs and provide enough trucks & employees so we are not exhausted from 24 hours of non-stop running. Fatigued driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving! P.S. the insurance issue: new Obama Care says if you can rise from seated position, walk, & sit then insurance does not need to pay for ambulance transport. GC bills all insurance & it's at their discretion to pay or not. You can thank Mr. Obama for that, especially if you voted for him:)

MarinerMan
2107
Points
MarinerMan 05/14/13 - 03:16 pm
1
0
AC - Okay, It's Time to Ask Chief James a Question
Unpublished

If traumaqueen is correct? Do you (James) want to take over EMS? If the answer is yes, I can't support that. You only need to wear one hat, and wear it VERY well. Firefighters that have taken the time to go back to school and get their EMT, I applaud you. I know some Columbia County firefighters/EMTs work for GC on their days off. BUT, ARC does NOT need to be in the ambulance business !!!!

KSL
134766
Points
KSL 05/14/13 - 09:07 pm
0
0
??????'

"Fire chief grilled" and "back in the hot seat."

TakeAHike
191
Points
TakeAHike 05/15/13 - 04:26 pm
0
0
GoldCross gold diggers

Gold Cross invests in the community? How?! wonder how many on the commission are getting kickbacks from Gold Cross. Augusta/Richmond County PAYS millions to Gold Cross for them to "provide" service while Gold Cross overcharges patients who have no choice when someone calls 911 on their behalf. Imagine the surprise when you're paying nearly $1000/month for a full coverage insurance plan when you get a "balance bill" from Gold Cross. Everyone else in the ER accepts the in network rate even if they weren't in network but not Gold Cross. They are out of network on purpose so they can set their own rates and aggressively pursue their victims for ever dollar they can squeeze out of them. At the very least they should be in network with the health insurance provider of the government employees.

In the rewrite of the contract make them reimburse all their patients for those unecessary out of network balance bills!

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