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Charlotte Area

New Charlotte Fire Chief Talks Vision, Low Morale

Charlotte's new Fire Chief spoke to reporters Friday about his vision and low morale in the department.
David Boraks
David Boraks

Newly-hired Charlotte Fire Chief Reginald Johnson says his role will be to make sure the department has the training and resources it needs and to rebuild morale by keeping an open door with employees.

He comes to Charlotte from the fire department in Fairfax County. He was an assistant fire chief there. 

Johnson was introduced to fire department staff Friday morning and talked to reporters afterward. 

“I will leave this vision as simple as this: The department will continue to be mission-focused and operationally-sound,” said Johnson. “Once we’re able to better identify those issues that have caused low morale, then we’ll address those as we go.”

Rifts developed in the department over spending at a new fire department headquarters and a whistleblower lawsuit in which a former fire investigator said the department retaliated against her. A jury awarded her $1.5 million. 

“Morale is an issue in many fire departments – the ebb and flow of morale – but how you address that is through communication and transparency and that’s my goal,” said Johnson. 

Johnson said he knows he has a lot of work to make sure the department adapts to growth in Charlotte. 

“We want to make sure we’re able to maintain that world-class response time. So we need to make sure we’re watching the data, watching the population so we address that,” said Johnson. 

He’s the first African American Fire Chief to lead the department on a permanent basis. The department has struggled to recruit and retain minorities. African Americans and Latinos made up 16 percent of the department’s staff, as of June 2017. Johnson says he plans to work on that. 

“Diversity and hiring of minorities and women in general is not just a Charlotte fire department issue. It’s a fire-service industry issue.”

Charlotte’s fire department differs from Fairfax and other departments Johnson has worked at. He says that will take some getting used to. For example, Charlotte’s fire department is responsible for educating all CMS third graders about fire safety and controls the city’s Office of Emergency Management.