ISLE OF PALMS, S.C. (WCBD) – Isle of Palms leaders are facing pressure to hire a new fire chief. The position has sat empty for nearly nine months following the retirement of long-time Chief Ann Graham. State fire leaders say the lack of a fire chief is a major safety concern for everyone on the island.
The concern for leaders is that the fire department can’t function properly without a chief. City Council appointed Isle of Palms Police Chief Kevin Cornett to oversee both departments but state fire leaders and some council members say the city is failing not only the department but also the residents by not hiring an experienced fire chief.
“This non-compliance by the City of Isle of Palms has put the residents, visitors and their own firefighters in danger,” says William Pesature who serves as Vice President of the Professional Fire Fighters Association of South Carolina.
“This falls on City Council and the City Council has failed them and has failed the department,” says Isle of Palms City Councilman Ryan Buckhannon.
Former Fire Chief Ann Graham retired in back in December of 2020. City Council received applications from more than 70 internal and external candidates for the job including a Battalion Chief with the city who had 28 letters of recommendation. City Council voted against hiring anyone, Pesature, a former fire fighter says it’s unacceptable.
“They’re in jeopardy, this business is in jeopardy, everyone who comes here as a tourist is in jeopardy,” says Pesature. “Who’s making the decisions?”
The position of Fire Chief has been left vacant since January has been filled by Police Chief Kevin Cornett. Pesature says Chief Cornett lacks education, experience and knowledge for the job of Fire Chief. Councilman Buckhannon says it’s noticeable.
“We need to move forward,” says Councilman Buckhannon. “The morale is at the lowest it’s been in the department for a long time.”
The search for a qualified candidate was tabled by City Council back in March, months later Buckhannon says he’s fighting to have the position filled. He believes an internal candidate is the right answer for the job.
“And they just want someone they can go to,” says Councilman Buckhannon. “Somebody who’s worn the boots, somebody who has put on the jacket and somebody who’s done what they’ve done.”
With city council set to discuss the possibility of purchasing of a new fire truck and other equipment during a City Council meeting Tuesday night, leaders say establishing leadership is important now more than ever.
“It doesn’t seem that difficult, it just comes down to common sense and that’s what we need to do,” says Councilman Buckhannon. “We need to move forward, allow the department to work under a Chief and we need to appoint somebody.”
A leader to make operational decisions, to increase morale and lead the fight against the fire. Pesature says hiring a new Chief quickly is the safest bet for residents, tourist and fire fighters alike.
“And the administration of this town to give the fire fighters the leadership that they deserve,” says Pesature. “Not leaving them out to dry and hanging them out because if something happens at a scene, who’s the one that’s going to be in trouble?”
Councilman Buckhannon says he’s asked for the search for a Fire Chief to be put on next month’s city council agenda in order to fill the position. City Council is slated to meet Tuesday. They will discuss purchasing a new fire engine and breathing apparatuses but no talk of hiring a new chief. In a statement, the city says they are committed to supporting the department while conducting a thorough search for a new leader.