Fire Chief Carr receives top honor

Charleston Fire Chief Thomas Carr (right) receives congratulations from Mayor Joe Riley (left) and City Council member Dean Riegel on his being named the 2010 Career Fire Chief of the Year by Fire Chief magazine.

Brad Nettles

Charleston Fire Chief Thomas Carr doesn't have much time these days to reflect on his distinguished career as a firefighter, but the 32-year veteran didn't have a choice Wednesday.

A national magazine has named him its Career Fire Chief of the Year.

Fire Chief magazine gave the award to Carr, citing his leadership and vision at his former department in Montgomery County, Md., and the Charleston department, which he took over in 2008 following the Sofa Super Store fire that killed nine firefighters.

Mayor Joe Riley, flanked by Carr and surrounded by firefighters Wednesday, called it the highest honor a fire chief can achieve.

"This award is the baseball equivalent of being elected to the Hall of Fame while still on active duty," Riley said.

Carr could have chosen retirement but said he has never regretted moving to Charleston two years ago to take over a department that is still reeling from the loss of nine of its own. There have been some bumps in the road, but the department is moving ahead, thanks to the firefighters, the community and city leadership, he said.

"It's a team, it's a community that made this thing work," Carr said. "You can have new equipment, all the stuff in the world, but without these folks you've got nothing."

The magazine will honor Carr and Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year award winner Timothy Wall of North Wallingford, Conn., during the opening session of the International Association of Fire Chiefs' conference in Chicago on Aug. 26.

This is the 15th year the award has been given out.

A statement released by Penton Media, which publishes the magazine, states that the Montgomery Fire and Rescue Department became one of the most progressive departments on the East Coast because of Carr's leadership.

Since returning to Charleston, the Charleston native is widely credited with implementing modern techniques and standards, as well as adopting a more coordinated,

regional approach to fire fighting.

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.

Riley said Carr inherited a stringent plan to modernize the department and has met every challenge head-on.

Carr told Riley when he was hired that it would take five to six years to complete his vision of a more modern and coordinated department.

He said he intends to see it through, as long as his health holds up. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in April.

"If it doesn't hold up, I think we have a good foundation in place," he said.

Carr said he doesn't take much time to look back at his career because he is still active, but he said he never imagined that he would be a firefighter for 32 years.

"No way," he said. "Maybe 25. It was a dream. I never thought I would be a chief, and now I can't imagine being anything but a chief."