Interim Charleston Fire Chief Appointed

CHARLESTON, S.C. --A veteran fire official will take over the department next month when Chief Rusty Thomas steps down.

Mayor Joe Riley announced that Assistant Chief Ronnie Classen will be acting chief when Thomas leaves his post on June 27.

Battalion Chief William F. Finley was appointed acting deputy chief.

Classen has been with the department since 1971, while Finley has more than 27 years on the job, Riley said in a prepared statement.

In a written statement, Classen said: "I am honored by the request from the Mayor and I look forward to working with all members of the Charleston Fire Department to continue to heal and move forward."

Thomas stepped down last Wednesday on the eve of the release of a critical report on the June 18 fire that claimed nine Charleston firefighters.

The panel of fire service experts was highly critical of the way the entire fire at the furniture store was handled.

An emotional Thomas accepted responsibility for the tragedy after listening to Gordon Routely's presentation at city hall last Thursday.

The chief said his department may begin to heal as he steps aside.

His brother, Battalion Chief Tommy Thomas, announced his retirement two days later.

Since the fire, about 30 firefighters have left the department, sources said.

Riley said last week he did not expect a mass exodus of high-ranking officers on the heels of Thomas' announcement.

However, at least two more top officers are expected to leave in the near future, sources said.