Augusta Fire Chief Faces Hostile Questions Commissioners Say - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

Augusta Fire Chief Faces Hostile Questions Commissioners Say

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Augusta, GA -

Commissioner Donnie Smith was turning up the heat on Augusta Fire Department Chief Chris James about missing the deadline on getting about 200 oxygen tanks tested.

"When you asked pointed questions, you expect pointed answers. When people give you a song and dance, don't answer you directly...then they have to be held accountable for that," said Commissioner Smith.

Smith was grilling James on whether the missed deadline put firefighters in danger. Smith had asked James, what if firefighters were at a structure fire and all 260 tanks ran empty?

Because of the missed deadline the tanks could not be refilled.

Chief James says firefighters would not have been at risk because, if that happened, he said the firefighters would have been pulled back, but instead of waiting on James to finish his answer, Smith's fellow committee members voted to end the questioning, believing Smith had crossed a line.

"It was definitely hostile, maybe the questions were legitimate, but it depends on how you go about phrasing your questions. I'm in your face, that's hostile," said Commissioner Bill Lockett. 

"Were you being hostile?" we asked Smith. "No," he answered. "Why were you cut off?" we asked. "I don't know, you have to ask the Chairman of the Public Safety Committee that," he said.

Commissioner Alvin Mason chairs the committee, and said the issue had been discussed.

"I thought there was a lot of nitpicking, some unnecessary questioning and hostile action in the questions. That's totally unnecessary," said Mason, who in the past has asked tough questions of department heads.

Smith could have called out Chief James directly with his questions, instead of doing it in a public meeting, something James said did not occur.

"No, he has not talked to me specifically to say, 'I'm going to ask these questions, I've got questions about this'," said James.

Smith still has questions, but thanks the Public Safety Committee. He's still looking for answers.

"I asked a question that I couldn't get an answer to because the chair cut me off. That's what we were trying to get to," he said.

The issue will go to the full Commission next week, with Smith saying he plans at that meeting to resume the debate on whether the missed deadline with the oxygen tanks put the public or firefighters at risk. By the way, all the tanks passed the inspection, according to Chief James.

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