Fully involved

Firefighter's side business appears to thrive at an unethical advantage

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Note to Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

The department is only now investigating Battalion Chief Tommy Willis for running a side business and apparently using the department as a referral agency to steer fire victims to it since at least January.

Members of the fire department were actually referring fire victims to Willis’ “1-800-Board Up” – which, for a fee, secures damaged homes – without telling the shell-shocked property owners that there are other businesses in town that provide such a service.

In short, it appears Willis used his lofty city position to get his side business in the front door at fire scenes. And he had help doing it; not only were other officials in the department referring victims to Willis’ business, but promotional materials for the enterprise – mugs, calendars, note pads and business cards – were said to be all over area fire stations.

Hello? Didn’t someone with a trained nose smell smoke?

Nope. Only after The Chronicle chronicled the scheme earlier this month did the department start investigating and put Willis – the fire chief’s brother – on paid leave. Moreover, acting chief Mike Rogers initially claimed a January incident, in which a fire department investigator called Board Up to a fire scene, was isolated. It didn’t take much of a nose for The Chronicle to sniff out a handful of other times when the department called Willis’ business to a scene.

Guess that fire wasn’t out after all!

The arrangement is about as unethical and reprehensible as you can imagine. It shamelessly takes advantage of stressed and traumatized property owners, while using a tax-paid position to gain a near-exclusive advantage over competitors. Willis even had his city-issued e-mail address on his Board Up business cards.

To put it in perspective, it’s as if a police department were routing burglary victims to one of their buddies’ locksmith companies, or steering criminals to the deputy chief’s bail bond business.

They have a word for that in non-Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department circles. It’s called “corruption.”

It’s not only patently unethical and against the city’s conflict-of-interest rules, but it ought to be illegal if it isn’t already. Worse, it tars and embarrasses an already beleaguered fire department reeling from morale problems and a slow-burning mutiny against Chief Howard Willis and other top officials that has included a union call for their resignation.

It may get even hotter if the chief’s brother isn’t shown the door – and ethics doesn’t somehow get slipped into the training schedule.

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shrimp for breakfast
5450
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shrimp for breakfast 10/09/11 - 04:13 am
0
0
At the very least the

At the very least the Batallion Chief should lose his job. They should give him the choice of either resigning or being fired but this is definitely a breach of ethics. Using taxpayer money to promote your own business is a slap in the face to all of us. What makes it so much worse is that he knew it was wrong and yet was so non-chalant about it.
Everyone in this city should be angry.

Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 10/09/11 - 02:41 am
0
0
If the people of A-RC really

If the people of A-RC really want to get angry, they should demand an outside audit of the Richmond County School System and a public dissemination of the audit's unabridged results in the county legal organ. A-RC commissioners deal with a budget which is but a fraction of the size of the quarter-billion-dollar one "overseen" by the RCBOE.

Riverman1
83521
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Riverman1 10/09/11 - 05:55 am
0
0
So tell me how this is any

So tell me how this is any different than the RCSO running private protection out of county offices? Businesses that complain about lack of law enforcement are told to hire off duty officers through a supervisor. Does he take a cut of the action?

The shady businesses downtown especially keep the protection pay rolling into the RCSO and keep the public in-line at those establishments. Want to run a strip club, you had better be paying lots for police protection. Never see a cop patrolling near your store? Could it be because you don't pay for special protection. Talk about conflict of interest. You guys are so gullible.

Fred Russell says it's disturbing Willis used a Fire Dept e-mail address. I'd like to ask Fred if the private business he runs on the side renting equipment to other communities ever used his city e-mail address. Did he take calls during the day about renting the equipment? Use county phones for that?

Speaking of ethics, there is a major principle you are missing. It is the degree that's important. You have focused on the little guy while the Chronicle and rest of the cabal ensured $100 million was lifted from the taxpayers to help with their businesses.

Someone needs to explain to you what "unethical advantages" actually are.

elhawthorne
0
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elhawthorne 10/09/11 - 09:02 am
0
0
Funny, Remember when a

Funny, Remember when a "unnamed individual was Chief", A special-grand jury was called... Just because. Now a obvious violation is committed and everyone is silent. A firefighter was nearly killed because he was ordered inside of a house alone..And a Fire Report written by his Supervisor never mentioned that part.. Food for thought... If you are a Organized city/county and you have people running your Department, if these people can not leave your city and work at another Department of comparable size...Re-evaluate your hiring process for Department Heads. If your Department heads or Deputy department heads can only get a Job at Wal-Mart when they retire...You are way behind and have placed your citizens at a huge risk and city at a liability. It is almost like having a bus driver fly the space shuttle and wonder why it crashed. Dahhhh.Who is to blame: Your elected officials who want puppets. Listen to City managers and allow them to hire professionals or pay Georgia University to come down tell you the same thing your City Managers tell you... Hire people who have Master's Degree or Higher to run your Departments, You can get professional services and hold them professionally responsible. Associate Degree or Degrees from a unaccredited University should not be accepted to run even a Volunteer Fire Department. Just think how much worth/value is the total property worth of Augusta? You have entrusted someone whom have not sought out a Professional Degree to protect it??? Ask your local buisness owners what is the requirements to manage and operate thier plants, manufacturing facilities? Who is at fault: the Citizens. The citizens should stand up and demand professional services, not fly by night (I been employed for 30 years as a janitor, and now I am qualified to lead and run the front office), un-degreed, ignorance of ethics, humanities, political science, Public Speaking, Organizational Management, Business Management results in the behavior that is on-going. You cannot learn these skills in a Fire Station. Seek Professional Leadership. Trust me you don’t have to look too far. But Hey this is Georgia, Lets keep it the same..It makes for good news now and agian....Hopefully we dont adversely effect people lives..I forgot firefighters are in the buisness of that daily.

seenitB4
86768
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seenitB4 10/09/11 - 09:37 am
0
0
Public Speaking,

Public Speaking, Organizational Management, Business Management results in the behavior that is on-going. You cannot learn these skills in a Fire Station....Funny thing Hawthorne.....I haven't seen a public speaker put out a roaring fire in my lifetime.....
Sure all of the things you mentioned are important but it seems you are lumping all of the firefighters in the same pot...I've been around police/firefighters a long time in the past...I'll take a dedicated experienced firefighter anyday to a fresh Masters graduate who has never seen the inside a fire department.... You can't fight a fire with a piece of paper.......maybe pr personnel is needed in the front office with tv experience...another job --more money from taxpayers..

burnout
0
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burnout 10/09/11 - 09:40 am
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You guys are missing the "big

You guys are missing the "big picture" here. Who brought Willis into this busuness venture and why? The board up money is really nothing and more of a nusance than it is worth and it really is sad he did not see thru what was going on or how his "contacts" were being used and abused. But, the BIG MONEY is in repairing the fire damage, cleaning the contents, packing and storing the contents, dry cleaning the clothes, temporary housing and the list goes on and on. That is what 800 board-up is designed to allow it's franchisee access to, to give their franchisees the "fast track" to direct leads to the fires before the insurance companies even know there has been a fire. The BIG MONEY for these additional services that the "shellshocked homeowner" will allow the 800 board up contractor to perform a vast majority of the time. That is if "the contractor" wants to do that particular job, if it is a rat hole they walk away, if it is got the right coverage and a good enough job, since they have the inside track they have the first right of refusal and they sign it up or leave the junk for the competetion. Read for yourself, follow the link or read the "comment" pasted below. The Willis brothers do not sound like the end of or the entire story to me.

http://www.1-800boardup.com/testimonials.html

"After 30 years in the construction and insurance restoration business I thought I seen it all however 1-800-BOARDUP and the new Fast Track Program has opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at my business and the fire restoration industry as a whole.

It really has been a complete paradigm shift for Bowles Construction but we now have far more control over our sales, our profit margins and our future in a way that I could have never imagined before we joined 1-800-BOARDUP (and frankly it's just a lot more fun). We will never go back to the "old fashioned" way of marketing. 1-800-BOARDUP was well worth the investment and the return we have reaped is enormous."

Bowles Construction / Disaster Kleen-up
Augusta GA

seenitB4
86768
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seenitB4 10/09/11 - 09:41 am
0
0
BTW...They are cutting back

BTW...They are cutting back on firefighters & police ...in case you haven't noticed.

harley_52
23164
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harley_52 10/09/11 - 09:42 am
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0
Craig Spinks said...."If the

Craig Spinks said...."If the people of A-RC really want to get angry, they should demand an outside audit of the Richmond County School System and a public dissemination of the audit's unabridged results in the county legal organ."

If you are aware of some wrong doing, I think the citizens would appreciate you making it known as soon as you become aware of the problem, not sitting back and wishing for an audit while crimes are being committed, or money is being wasted.

seenitB4
86768
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seenitB4 10/09/11 - 09:51 am
0
0
What would be interesting

What would be interesting would be to see how many on the commish are working side jobs with their emails-calls-legal paper & etc.
Something tells me we will find more info. forth coming in the near future.

waterman
0
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waterman 10/09/11 - 11:07 am
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Complete the investigation by

Complete the investigation by asking how many times these other companies have been called. They have been called many times, only they don't show up. A "shell-shocked" homeowner? Let that homeowners property be looted or robbed after a fire, and I'll show you a "shell-shocked" taxpayer. Would anyone in their right mind continue to call people that will not respond?

burnout
0
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burnout 10/09/11 - 12:03 pm
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waterman said "Complete the

waterman said

"Complete the investigation by asking how many times these other companies have been called. They have been called many times, only they don't show up."

That is NOT TRUE, all the other companies in town are emergency responders, "off duty" firemen are not the only people who get out of bed to do emergency service work. All the other companies REGULARY respond in the middle of the night, weekends, holidays ETC. for storm damage, flood damage ETC. that IS what they are in the business of doing, EMERGENCY SERVICES. Pick up a phone book and see all the $1,200 a month ads in there for emergency responders. Owning a 800 board up franchise does NOT give anyone a right to 100% of the calls from the fire dept. and firemen inside track calls and that absoulely is what is happening here.

avidreader
3179
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avidreader 10/09/11 - 12:12 pm
0
0
I WONDER! Did many insiders

I WONDER! Did many insiders on the payroll of the fire department keep their mouths shut because they feared for their jobs? That's a wager I'd take.

JRC2024
8844
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JRC2024 10/09/11 - 12:19 pm
0
0
My adds in the yellow pages

My adds in the yellow pages run $4500.00 a month. If you think I will not get up and go give an estimate on any job you are wrong. I will go any day at any time. I want the job and the money that goes with the job. Insurance work is good work and has been a mainstay of our business since the 1970's

seenitB4
86768
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seenitB4 10/09/11 - 12:36 pm
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jrc....Maybe it needs

jrc....Maybe it needs rotating to even out the calls....does the wrecker service still do it that way...

Riverman1
83521
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Riverman1 10/09/11 - 01:26 pm
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0
Hawthorne, the only case I

Hawthorne, the only case I know of someone using a phony degree was Ronnie Few. Did someone else present a degree that wasn't the real deal?

TCB22
632
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TCB22 10/09/11 - 01:38 pm
0
0
Degree? I wonder how Bill

Degree? I wonder how Bill Gates and Steve Jobs ever made it without one.

kmb413
533
Points
kmb413 10/09/11 - 01:51 pm
0
0
Karma. Many years ago he

Karma.

Many years ago he hid a firefighters mask. Then tried to suspend that firefighter for not having his mask. The firefighter left the fire dept over that incident.

burnout
0
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burnout 10/09/11 - 02:21 pm
0
0
"Hello? Didn’t someone with a

"Hello? Didn’t someone with a trained nose smell smoke?"

To whom do you complain when the issue goes all the way to the top AND BEYOND? Anyone who does not know the "bubba network" runs and owns Augusta is living under a rock or ignorant, if you rock the boat and there would be hell to pay, these guys have been doing anything and everything they want forever

waterman
0
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waterman 10/09/11 - 03:33 pm
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0
Oh but it is true, burnout.

Oh but it is true, burnout. I've sat on a fire scene countless times waiting for one of these companies to show, ending up by leaving the homeowner to fend for themselves. Do I think it's ethical for a chief officer to push a certain service company on taxpayers? No, not in the least. However, after reading your last post, you seem hell bent on bringing down the Fire Chief by any means possible...."bubba network?"....please!

elhawthorne
0
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elhawthorne 10/09/11 - 05:44 pm
0
0
Professional-Firefighter put

Professional-Firefighter put fires out, Professional Supervisors-Supervise, Professional Managers-Manage, and Professional Fire Chiefs- Run Professional Departments... Charlotte Fire, Orlando Fire, Miami-Dade Fire, Atlanta Fire, Gwinnett Fire....I can bet my check the Chief of these Departments have Bachelor Degree or Higher, have been published in professional journals, and have spoken in front of their peers at National professional meetings examples IAFC, FDIC or IAFF... In my opinion: If Augusta want to be led by leaders who lack the skills needed to apply for grants, administrate/manage and perform ethically..."Give the People what they want." Just don’t act surprised when you see the 20 car pile up in the intersection and wonder why....when you have a blind man walk out of the car that caused the wreck. There is a difference between good firefighters and administrators. They are visionaries who say the (paraphrased) Citizens are the Customer- Alan Bruccini Former Chief of Phoenix, Author, and Speaker of Fire Service related Publications. The BMW plant manager was not promoted because he knew how to place tires on the car. The Surgeon was not placed as Chief Surgeon because he knew how to start IV’s. The Chief of Charlotte Fire was not promoted because he was the best driver.... Keep fighting Masters, Keep fighting.... You have a long way to go for change to happen.... change will come.

4Heavensake
0
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4Heavensake 10/09/11 - 06:01 pm
0
0
I like how this reporter only

I like how this reporter only reports half truths just to make a name for herself. First of all, the email address that appears on the 1-800 Boardup business cards is a 1-800 Boardup email address, and it has been that way for about 2 years now. Secondly, there have been times where other companies were called to do boardups and victim services in the middle of the night, and those other companies didn't want to come out until sometime the next day. The whole reason you need to boardup a house is to keep people out. This is so children can't get in and hurt or kill themselves, and thieves can't get in and steal you blind. It's not wise to wait until sometime the next day for that. I wonder if it puts a huge liability on the fire department if they were to leave a scene unsecure? Did Mrs. McManus check into that? As far as victim services, homeowners don't always have a place to go in the middle of the night. Providing victim services to displaced homeowners is time sensitive. 1-800 Boardup provides displaced homeowners with a place to go free of charge for a few nights. This gives the homeowner time to gather their thoughts and make other arrangements. I wonder if Mrs. McManus has even checked with the "other companies" to see if their boardup division even offers such a thing. I'm not against reporting, but if you are going to report on something...be fair and report everything. Shame on you.

elhawthorne
0
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elhawthorne 10/09/11 - 06:20 pm
0
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Are you comparing anyone we

Are you comparing anyone we know to have the intellectually capability of Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs??? They are/were gifted minds..We do have some in this world who are gifted and the fruit of the gifts were on display for the whole world. The truth hurts, I have not completed my degree yet, But I have intellectually humility that has allowed me to continue to seek it. I am a citzen who pay taxes, I want people with engineering degrees to design the bridges..., I would like for my Surgeon to have completed a Degree, Residency and be Board Certfied.. What is so different about the Fire Service...Provide an intelligent argument to citzens. BTW Bill Gates reported IQ of 160...Steve Jobs unknown ....Almost like all of his Apple rollouts. To advance the profession of Firefighters...we must advance our leaders or Recruit the advanced to Lead us (Firefighters)

justwaiting
0
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justwaiting 10/09/11 - 06:25 pm
0
0
Here is how I see it! In my

Here is how I see it! In my opinion!
Witch hunt!
The leaders have said twice on tv or paper guilty! However, now they are "conducting an investigation". So by guilty until proven innocent, this problem has become a bash session!

Willow Bailey
20580
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Willow Bailey 10/09/11 - 08:41 pm
0
0
The worst part about the

The worst part about the witch hunt is WHO gets to decide
which witches are getting hunted.

Pu239
284
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Pu239 10/09/11 - 08:57 pm
0
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"Keep fighting Masters, Keep
Unpublished

"Keep fighting Masters, Keep fighting.... You have a long way to go for change to happen.... change will come."

Statements like these boldly state the posters modus operandi.

waterman1
4
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waterman1 10/10/11 - 01:52 pm
0
0
So you want a new chief?

So you want a new chief? Most likely going to get one ... but be careful what you ask for! You just might get some more Ronnie Few "vision".

kmb413
533
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kmb413 10/10/11 - 08:32 pm
0
0
How many crying witch hunt

How many crying witch hunt actually work for the fire dept. How many saying this have witnessed the back handed things Tommy has done?

I didn't work for the fire dept, but I did witness one of his mean nasty dirty deeds done to a fireman. I am betting that there is more than the one I witnessed.

"I WONDER! Did many insiders on the payroll of the fire department keep their mouths shut because they feared for their jobs? That's a wager I'd take."

elhawthorne
0
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elhawthorne 10/10/11 - 08:38 pm
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Augusta please contact the

Augusta please contact the International Association of Fire Chiefs to assist with your decisions, pay the new Chief adequately and allow him/her to appoint or reappoint his/her Deputy Chiefs, Assistants Chiefs who merit the same or greater qualifications. Don’t worry about the "morale" monster. There is a multitude of people you can hire and train who reside in Augusta City/county limits, who will be highly motivated to provide public safety for neighbors, family and friends. They will also provide service for the people who live in the same community as they do and most of all pay taxes in Augusta.

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