Charleston Fire Chief Tom Carr Diagnosed With Parkinson's Disease

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Charleston Fire Chief Tom Carr announced Tuesday afternoon he has Parkinson's.

After notifying his command staff of his diagnosis, Carr sent an e-mail to members of the department he has headed since 2008.

The former chief in Montgomery County, Md. reassured them that he intends to stay at the helm, to stay the course.

Carr, 55, explained that he has experienced some symptoms such as some tremors in his hands and face and lack of facial expression. But, added that his soft raspy voice is most frustrating. "In the past, I had a strong voice and rarely used a microphone..."

"But I still wake up every morning ready to get at the days activities. As the chief executive officer of the Charleston Fire Department, my responsibility is not fighting fires but fighting, cheerleading, and facilitating for you folks on the street."

Despite the diagnosis, the chief wants people to understand nothing has changed. He remains committed to helping firefighters heal.

Carr took over following the 2007 blaze that claimed the lives of nine firefighters. He has initiated a number of changes in the way Charleston firefighters operate.

"My career plan is to continue to implement our CFD vision. We have made a great deal of progress but there is plenty left to do. We have established a great leadership team which is very effective...I take this commitment seriously and would do nothing to compromise you or the CFD. I plan to continue working for you as long as I am able. My doctors say that 5-10 years is a reasonable expectation..."

Carr said he has started researching to determine if there are any links to Parkinson's and firefighting.

"I went though genetic testing to determine if my children were at risk. I do not have the genetic markers for PD. Given the genetic test results, I most likely developed PD as a result of environmental exposure, such as, chemicals released from normal room and contents fires as well as exposure to pesticides and other chemicals," he told his staff.

Carr said it's important to get the word out to other firefighters about the risks.

In addition to his personal statement, he included an informational sheet on Parkinson's, which is non-curable.

Carr concluded: "Have no doubt that I will continue to lead the CFD on its current path."

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