Charleston Fire Chief With Parkinson's to Retire

Citing increasing medical issues related to Parkinson's, Charleston Chief Tom Carr told firefighters Wednesday he will be retiring in March.

Carr, 57, took the reins of the department in 2008, a year after a fire claimed the lives of nine firefighters.

The former chief of Montgomery County, Md. has been upfront about his diagnosis with Parkinson's, and has been involved in studies to determine if the disease is linked to firefighting.

He told his staff Wednesday: "Parkinsonism is a group of neurological disorders or syndromes. Parkinson's is the most common and slowest developing. Unfortunately, my doctor now believes I have one of the more severe syndromes of Parkinsonism. The syndrome is known as Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). MSA is a rapidly developing, debilitating condition that doesn't respond well to medication."

He vowed to continue to lead the department in the next six months as the city looks for a replacement.

"He is very much in charge," said Mark Ruppell, fire department spokesman. "That has not, and will not change until he leaves."

Ruppell added that Carr is not giving interviews at the moment.

Upon hearing the announcement, Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. said, "Chief Carr is recognized as one of the best minds in the fire service in our country. Last summer at the annual meeting of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Chief Carr was awarded the prized Career Fire Chief of the Year. I was in Chicago for the presentation, and the affection and respect that I observed from the thousands in attendance for Chief Carr was amazing. We have been so fortunate to have Chief Carr as Fire Chief in our City. I have expressed my gratitude for his extraordinary service to our city and our country in several meetings with him these past few days."

The city will begin a nationwide search for a replacement.

In a memo to the Charleston City Council, Riley wrote: “Chief Carr’s accomplishments are many. He has supervised the acquisition of new equipment and implemented national best practices in training and fire safety for our firefighters and citizens. He has overseen the largest recruit classes in the City of Charleston Fire Department’s history and implemented officer’s candidate school, a national best practice and national model. He has fostered a regional fire response system with cross-training from other fire departments in the region that has improved fire protection across the region. A resident of our community, whether they are in the City of Charleston or another jurisdiction, will have departments responding from the nearest jurisdiction to the fire, familiar with the same equipment, using the same procedures and protocols. He has admirably marshaled the Department through a challenging transition.”

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