Retiring Fire Chief Is Vying For South Carolina Job

Gastonia Fire Chief Robert Ridgeway, who announced he was retiring earlier this month, is one of four finalists vying to become the new chief at the Columbia fire department.

He'll meet with Columbia city officials and residents Nov. 22 and 23, said Dana Turner, Columbia's assistant city manager for commerce and development.

"His personality and comments certainly impressed the community," she said.

City officials liked Ridgeway's experience, his extensive educational background and how well prepared he was for the interview, she said.

Ridgeway, who has more than 30 years of firefighting experience, became Gastonia's fire chief in July 1996. Prior to that, he was chief of the Cape Girardeau, Mo., fire department for three years.

In a Nov. 4 letter addressed to Gastonia city officials, Ridgeway stated he would retire by June 30, 2005, but might do so earlier because he was pursuing other possibilities in his field.

He did not return calls for comment.

Columbia city officials had announced earlier this year that Jack Jansen was retiring after 13 years as fire chief, and they received about 40 applications from interested candidates, Turner said. The city manager narrowed the field of applicants from nine to four after reviewing written responses to a questionnaire they were given. Ridgeway is competing against two other outside candidates and one internal candidate, Turner said.

Columbia's next fire chief would be in charge of a department that serves both the city and county, which has a total of more than 320,000 residents, compared with the more than 66,000 residents in Gastonia.

The new chief also would supervise a $14 million budget and earn between $90,000 and $100,000, Turner said. Ridgeway currently supervises an almost $10 million budget and makes $82,914.