Augusta Firefighters Association asks for fire chief to step down

Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 9:53 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Augusta’s Professional Firefighters Association, in its strongest terms, is calling for Chief Chris James to retire, resign, or be fired by Augusta Commission.

In a 30-minute news conference on Tuesday, association President Mike Tomaszewski repeatedly called James a liar and questioned his leadership of the beleaguered department.


LIVE NOW: The Augusta Firefighters Association is holding a news conference to discuss issues with the city of Augusta.

Posted by News 12 NBC 26 on Tuesday, June 30, 2020

“We need to serve, and this is not going to happen with fire chief Christopher G. James,” Tomaszewski said. “It’s not.”

Tomaszewski came armed to the union’s news conference with documents and recordings that he says proves James is disingenuous when it comes to the leadership of his department.

Augusta Fire Department firefighters say there are issues with morale, mandatory overtime, and training.

Those issues came up again during the news conference, and according to Tomaszewski, have stretched back as far as 2018. The president said he, James, and several members of the city’s staff, have spoken on and off since then to resolve those issues.

“So we went through these meetings, we had recurring problems, recurring grievances such as staffing med units, overtime, mandatory overtime. And we started hearing statements that were inconsistent with what we were seeing on the ground,” Tomaszewski said. “We started hearing that maintenance was being taken care of, maintenance wasn’t being reported. We started being told to things were being sent over to central services and weren’t being taken care of. This information didn’t seem to match with what we were seeing.”

Tomaszewski said he even took those grievances to James personally with repeated assurances that things were getting done. That was not the case, Tomaszewski said he later discovered.

“After reporting them multiple times with all documentation, making sure that everything was nice and clear, stuff just isn’t getting taken care of,” Tomaszewski said. “It wasn’t getting taken care of. It’s still not getting taken care of.”

At a recent commission meeting, commissioners were supposed to hear from the association about those issues, but Mayor Hardie Davis blocked that presentation.

That was the breaking point for the association. Tomaszewski was asked about that meeting, and said that it was time for the city to stop playing games.

“Stop playing a childish game acting like the association doesn’t exist, or that you don’t recognize it. I also offered to give this presentation as an employee. This was indeed a personnel matter, with the proper name submitted to legal counsel. It fit. It should have been there. I can’t speak to his motivations, but it is a game,” Tomaszewski said. “That’s all it is.”

In the end, the firefighters association says it believes James should leave for the good of the city and the department.

“We need this change,” Tomaszewski said. “We’re ready for this change. Chief, step aside, please. And in your own words that you like to deliver to us as officers that you like to deliver to your chief officers, sometimes you just got to own it.”

Some Augusta leaders say the city does not recognize the association or its concerns as a union. But meeting notes in the past year show even the chief met with the group to work on issues about ambulances, staffing, training, and repairs for stations and trucks.

“We have one of the best, uh, fire stations in this country.” Commissioner Bill Fennoy, said.

While some stand in support of the chief, this group stands for his removal, they say, for the wellbeing of the fire crews and the community they serve.

The Augusta Fire Administration categorically calls firefighter claims misleading. The chief responded in a statement that he will not resign and said: “I am aware and disheartened to hear the allegations. I pride myself in running a tight ship.”

The chief adds that claims from earlier years have already been addressed.

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