New Charleston Chief Talks About Appointment

Montgomery County, Md. Chief Tom Carr was introduced as the new head of the Charleston Fire Department on Monday.

While changes -- many of them -- are inevitable in the Charleston Fire Department, the man selected to make them will be taking his time.

"My first priority is to meet the folks. They're going through a very trying, emotional time from a tragic situation. They need support," Montgomery County, Md. Chief Tom Carr said Tuesday afternoon, the day after he was introduced as Rusty Thomas' successor.

Thomas stepped down on the eve of the release of a controversial report on his handling of a furniture store blaze that claimed the lives of nine firefighters.

Carr said he wants the Charleston firefighters to be part of the change. Without that, it won't work.

"I want them to participate. I want them engaged. You can have all the reports in the world, but they won't be successful unless your people have ownership, an understanding..."

J. Gordon Routley, who chaired a task force that reviewed the department as well as its handling of the deadly 2007 fire, said he is looking forward to working with Carr.

"Tom is an excellent choice. He has vision and leadership skills. And, he also relates to firefighters effectively at every level."

Routley said he will be meeting with Carr and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley to determine the next course of action for his panel.

The group placed its next phase -- a long-range strategic and implementation plan -- on hold until the new chief was selected.

Carr said he's impressed with the panel's work. "They've done a tremendous job. We should be taking advantage of that..."

On Thursday, Routely will be in Montgomery County to present his report on the deadly fire to both career and volunteer firefighters.

One thing that Carr won't let slide in Charleston is anything dealing with safety including the use of seat belts. "I've always been a proponent of seat belts. Everyone knows that, and I spoke of it every time I was down there."

The Charleston native, who has headed the Montgomery County Department of Fire and Rescue Services for the past four years, said he's enjoyed getting out, and meeting firefighters and the community.

"The reception has been overwhelming. It's been a very enjoyable experience."

Carr also said he's been impressed with Riley and the council's commitment to changing the course of the fire department.

It also meant a great deal for him to have his parents, Charleston residents, in attendance Monday when Riley named him.

"They've been very supportive. They are excited about me coming home."

Carr believes the time is ripe for him to move south. "I am walking away from 40-plus years of professional and personal relationships here. But, I am making the right decision."

He said his wife and daughter, a senior in high school, also are supportive of his choice. "There are things to work out, but we're doing it."

Carr said he's looking forward to getting to know people. "I need to see what's up. I'm not going down there, and change this or change that."

And, calling his predecessor is on list. "He ran the department for many, many years. I will reach out to him."

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