As Augusta Fire Chief Chris James heads out the door to a new job, members of the local firefighters union issued a letter Friday criticizing him for a contract he negotiated to buy several fire trucks they claim require constant maintenance.
The Augusta Professional Firefighters Association claims members warned James years ago about the purchase of eight KME “prototype” fire trucks costing $6 million that now require frequent maintenance. James last week accepted a job as assistant manager of York County, S.C.
In the letter to Augusta Commission members, the association details how an apparatus committee formed in 2012 developed extensive specifications for the purchase of new fire pumpers and aerial ladder trucks.
“There will be no prototype of early production models – no exceptions,” the
committee recommended, according to the letter.
Despite the committee’s recommendation to purchase other brands and models with other specifications, weeks later members found James in a “closed-door meeting” with KME representatives. Learning of the meeting, several vendors declined to bid, the letter states.
“Several seasoned and ranking front line officers advised Fire Chief Christopher James and KME that our department and city should not accept one machine,” said the letter, written by association President Charles Masters.
The letter cites numerous continual malfunctions associated with the new trucks and links to videos showing interior drip pans leaking water, ladder defects and other issues.
James, who leaves for York County in March and received six months’ severance pay, did not answer a call seeking comment.
City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson said she planned to review the exhibits and evidence cited in the letter. After the issues came to light last year, the city terminated the KME contract, she said.
Commissioner Bill Lockett said the fire union “didn’t want (James) to be chief in the first place” and probably wouldn’t be satisfied.
Commissioner Marion Williams, a former firefighter, said the choice of trucks was the chief’s.
“He had that decision to make; he made that decision,” Williams said.
The union has made it known that it wants no one in the current fire administration to serve as interim chief when James departs.