By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News
The Isle of Palms City Council has failed the citizens of the island and created an unsafe situation for local residents and visitors alike by not hiring a full-time fire chief, a high-ranking official of the Professional Fire Fighters Association of South Carolina said at a press conference Aug. 23. Shortly after Association Vice President William J. Pesature and Council Member Ryan Buckhannon made remarks and answered questions in front of Acme Lowcountry Kitchen, located across J.C. Long Boulevard from the IOP fire station, City Administrator Desiree Fragoso released a statement denying that the city’s decision to promote Police Chief Kevin Cornett to the position of public safety director and put him temporarily in charge of both departments has caused a safety issue.
“The mayor, Council and I have the greatest confidence in the men and women of the Isle of Palms Fire Department and know they are in a position to respond to any type of emergency,” she said.
“We take very seriously the safety of our staff, residents and visitors. This structure is temporary and a thorough search for a qualified chief will be conducted in earnest in the coming months.” The city has been without a full-time fire chief since Ann Graham retired at the end of last year. Two people, an outside candidate and a current fireman, apparently turned down the job. In March, Council Member John Moye, chair of the Personnel Committee, presented a motion to start over by considering the original 10 finalists – but only candidates not currently working in the IOP Fire Department. Later in the same meeting, Council Member Jimmy Ward and Buckhannon voted for an ill-fated motion to hire Jason Smith as the IOP fire chief. In a March 7 letter to Fragoso, 30 full-time, part-time and volunteer members of the Fire Department asked that Smith be considered for the job. According to Pesature, Cornett doesn’t have the qualifications to be IOP’s fire chief.
“The Council has failed you. The process is flawed and it’s a mess,” he said. “It’s up to the Council and the administration to give firefighters the leadership they deserve. There’s nobody in charge who knows the operation of the Fire Department.” Buckhannon agreed that the blame for the current situation lies at the feet of the Council. He said there has been no discussion about a new chief from the Council’s Public Safety Committee since March, adding that morale in the department has never been lower. “We owe it to them to move forward,” Buckhannon commented, adding that IOP is spending money to train firemen who then move on to higherpaying jobs with other fire departments. “Uncertainty is the biggest thing.”
Buckhannon added that he would like to see Smith, currently a battalion chief, appointed by the Council as interim fire chief while the Council works on hiring a permanent chief. He said he thinks some of his fellow Council members are content to wait until after the Nov. 2 election to take action on the matter.