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As a firefighter for the City of Charleston, SC for almost eight years (2005-2013), I saw many things both good and bad.  But for the most part the Charleston Fire Department has been continuously plagued by numerous problems.  It is these problems that are the root cause for the departure of dozens of firefighters new and old, who have left to pursue careers with other departments as well as non fire department jobs all together.  In my opinion, there is one primary factor that seems to be a defining characteristic in the CFD:  Poor leadership.  Since the departure of Chief Thomas Carr Jr. and his exceptional leadership, the department has been led by poor leadership and influenced my own departure from the department.


The Charleston Fire Department has been without a commander since the retirement of Chief Carr.  He was a chief who stood up for the men and women of the CFD.  He truly cared about the wellbeing of all the members of the department and it showed.  Every time he would conduct a station visit, he would genuinely listen to all the firefighters because after all he was a firefighter at heart and never forgot where he came from.  He worked his way up the ranks and earned the respect of his co-workers and the upmost respect from the members of the CFD.    People tend to gravitate toward a genuine leader and Chief Carr personified that position beautifully.  The job of a firefighter was an honor and a privilege to him and that came out in how he took the bull by the horns and guided this department in the proper direction.  The fire service are filled with pride and traditions and not a corporate entity or business whose employees are just a number that could be replaced at anytime.


Since the retirement of Chief Carr, the department has been in turmoil and pointed in a downward spiral by the poor attitude and practices of the current leadership.  It seems that the current administration at the helm of this vessel is trying to deliberately sink this boat, and the firefighters are paying for it.  The firefighters have been pushed to the wayside and are the least of anyone’s concerns.  Their interests have been ignored, and their worries and concerns have fallen on deaf ears – ears that should be listening and taking an interest for the people who make this department run.  The department is being run like a business and everyone who is on the line has little to no trust and or loyalty in the “upper management”.


One of the main objectives as a department head is to retain your workforce, not push them away.  To me, that is the definition of poor management, which is all too real for the members of the CFD.  The current administration has completely broken the morale and the love for the job that was once infinite.  People like this do not deserve the honor to serve as a department head or lead such prodigious firefighters.  The only way to get back on track is to bring in someone who has the experience to lead by example and earn the respect of the firefighters by truth and honesty, not by lies and fabrications.  A leader is someone who inspires others and makes people reach for the best in themselves professionally as well as personally.  The CFD once had this kind of leader, and unfortunately it does not any more.  The members of the CFD deserve nothing short of the best in leadership, knowledge and professionalism, and leadership with the men and women of the department and great citizens of Charleston it’s main concern.


Many of the firefighters come into the firehouses throughout the city numb and disheartened.  The majority of them sadly doing nothing but looking forward to getting off the following morning and leaving the one place that made him or her the happiest.  When I speak with firefighters from other cities around the country, the majority cannot wait to get into work and do not look forward to leaving when their shift is over.  This has become the complete opposite for the members of the CFD.  Anyone who joins a fire department will tell you they do not do it for riches, notoriety, or awards.  They do it for the underlining desire to help others and because they love the feeling of getting on the apparatus and simply going to fires and honing their craft.  If one does not have the desire to fight fires, to train, to educate yourself, and be the best at what you do, then the fire service is not the right career path.  When the leadership takes those basic desires away, then it is hard to find the motivation to do the job, and that is why so many people are choosing to leave the department.


Personally, the decision to leave the Charleston Fire Department was the best move for me.  The hardest part was saying goodbye to my firehouse “family” and fellow brothers.  I could not morally or ethically agree with the cowardly, timid, and overly safe approach to fighting fires in the city of Charleston that the current administration has brought upon this traditional and uniquely age-enriched department.  With traditions and department pride propelled completely away, the identity of the CFD, which has been around since 1882, is vanishing at a rapid pace.  There is only a small amount of departments that can trace their roots back that far.  It seems as if we have forgotten all about the unique attributes that made the CFD what it is.  It is apparent that the administration is more concerned about safety vests, wheel chock placement, memos, e-mails, paperwork, and anything else that has no baring with our number one priority:  PUT THE FIRE OUT!  Being a firefighter is a voluntary job and each person knows the risks he or she takes every time you get on the apparatus.  It is impossible to take away all the uncertainty out of an inherently dangerous profession.  Trying to be exceedingly safe is just as treacherous as being knowingly unsafe.  If you cannot accept the uncertainties, then being a firefighter is the wrong choice.  Our leadership has forgotten why we choose to do this job.  It is for the citizens that are counting on us as specialists to be there during their time of need.  Manuals, books, degrees, classes, and statistics do not put fires out and are nothing more than tools in a firefighters arsenal.  You can read all the books and attend all the classes, but if you cannot translate what you learned to the fire ground, then they serve to purpose.  It is hard work, calculated thinking and sheer fearlessness of firefighters that extinguish fires.  We as firefighters are paid to put our lives in harms way to protect and save others.  The instant we put our own safety over the ones that call for our help, we become useless and ineffective.  That is not what a firefighter does or should believe in.  Sadly this is why so many talented firefighters are leaving the CFD.  They are headed straight for the door and not looking back.  They are done wasting their time for a department that has consistently failed them and has been nonexistent in their development as firefighters.


I wish the men and women of the Charleston Fire Department nothing but the best of luck in the ongoing struggle to get what they deserve.  We have to watch each other’s back at all times and take care of our own.  God knows no one else will.



Leadership is solving problems.  The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.  They have either lost confidence that you can help or conclude you do not care.  Either case is a failure of leadership


       -General Colin Powell




Scott Jainchill

Charleston Fire Department (2005 – 2013)


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