Longtime firefighter Leonard Judge always has been a trailblazer in North Charleston.
In 1989 he became the first black person to be promoted to battalion chief in the city's history.
Today, he will become the city's first black fire chief when Mayor Keith Summey makes the announcement official at 10 a.m. at City Hall.
Judge, a former assistant fire chief who started his firefighting career with the city in 1974, has been acting fire chief since September 2006. He replaced Fire Chief Larry Waddle, who left the post after just 10 months under allegations of racist promotion practices and a management style that didn't sit well with the mayor.
Judge, a husband, father and grandfather from the Liberty Hill neighborhood in North Charleston, had planned to retire in January, but the mayor asked him to stay on another year as fire chief.
"I talked with him about hanging in another year to give me time to find somebody," Summey said. "He's done an excellent job as interim fire chief."
Summey said he didn't want to name another acting fire chief before advertising nationally in May or June for a new chief.
Judge, who said he's in his mid-50s, said he's happy to be in a position to help the city, though he insists it's only for a year.
"I'm just glad to be able to stay onboard to finish some of the things I started," Judge said.
Judge is working on a five-year plan that calls for at least four new fire stations and personnel to staff them. Those stations would be in the upper part of the city's growing suburbs in Dorchester County and along Ladson Road, as well as at the booming Centre Pointe shopping area. A fourth would involve combining Stations 2 and 8 on the old naval base and on Meeting Street Road, respectively, on the city's southern end and relocating them near Toole Military Magnet School if the city acquires land there.
"I will present the five-year plan to them before I leave next year," Judge said. "City Council will have to figure out how to fund it."
Judge said he's learned to work with people during his 33 years as a firefighter.
"The main thing about this job is you have to listen to your people when they talk to you," he said. "Right now, we are an OK department, but there are some things we need to do to make some changes. We will make this a very good department."
After the Sofa Super Store fire June 18 in Charleston, Judge said his department reviewed its policies and procedures and tweaked them to improve on what the department was already doing.
City Councilwoman Dorothy Williams, who was critical of Waddle's leadership, was ecstatic after hearing the news of Judge's promotion Tuesday.
"This is wonderful," she said. "That is history in North Charleston. I am very, very, very, very happy. He is a wonderful person and is so well-experienced."
She said one of Judge's best qualities is that he gets along with his employees.
"They respect him, and that is so important," Williams said. "You can't have a good working relationship if you can't get along with the people you are in charge of."
Summey said the city has had very few complaints in the past 18 months about its fire service.
"We did a survey and the overwhelming majority of firefighters are happy with his leadership," the mayor said.
Judge said he looks forward to the next year.
"I intend to give it my best," he said.