Charleston Fire Chief Thomas Carr, Jr. told his department today that he plans to retire as of March 1, 2012.

Carr was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a few years ago. His physician recently determined he has a more serious condition known as Multiple Systems Atrophy that is similar to Parkinson's but progresses more quickly, according to a letter Mayor Joseph P. Riley wrote to City Council dated today.

Carr met with his family and determined the new diagnosis would require him to retire, Riley wrote.

In a prepared statement, Carr said the department will focus on moving forward as the search for his replacement begins.

Carr took over as fire chief in November 2008, taking the reins of a department still grieving and rebuilding from the Sofa Super Store blaze that killed nine city firefighters the year before. The challenge appealed to him, as did the chance to make a difference, he said.

Carr is widely credited with adopting modern techniques and standards, as well as charting a more coordinated, regional approach to firefighting. He has opened lines of communication with the local firefighters union and involved everyone from assistant chiefs to the rank-and-file in drafting a new playbook for the Fire Department.

Last summer, Carr was awarded Career Fire Chief of the Year by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

In his letter to council, Riley wrote, "When Chief Carr was hired he committed to serve 5 years. It is with deep regret for him and enormous regret for me that Chief Carr will not be able to complete that term of service to our citizens. However, as you all know and the members of our Fire Department and Fire Departments in this region know, Chief Carr has given the City of Charleston in just over 3 years at least 10 years' worth of leadership and most substantial contributions."

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