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Clearwater fire Chief Geer in running to lead S.C. department

CLEARWATER — Fire Chief Jamie Geer is a finalist to lead the Charleston, S.C., fire department, a unit that lost more firefighters in a single event in 2007 than any in the nation since Sept. 11, 2001.

Geer, who has had a tumultuous relationship with Clearwater's fire union since coming here in 2004, is among seven finalists looking to succeed former Chief Rusty Thomas, who recently retired.

The seven will be in Charleston on Monday to meet with city officials and members of the City Council.

"Charleston presents a great opportunity to provide leadership to an excellent department, and one that's closer to my lifelong home," Geer said Friday in a written statement. "My candidacy is by no means a reflection of my feelings about Clearwater.

"I remain passionate about the work we've been doing to improve fire services here in Clearwater, and plan to continue that tradition of continuous improvement for as long as I am here with the city."

Charleston has 275 firefighters with no collective bargaining agreement, said Battalion Chief Raymond Lloyd of the Charleston Fire Department.

According to City-Data.com, Charleston's 2007 population was 110,015 while Clearwater's was 106,642.

Charleston was the scene of tragedy in June 2007 when nine Charleston firefighters died after a roof collapsed as they were fighting a furniture warehouse fire.

John Lee, president of Clearwater's fire union, said he would not recommend Geer.

"He's lost everything he's handled," he said. "I don't think he's been very successful here."

Geer's tenure in Clearwater has been marred by infighting with the union.

In May 2006, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that Geer discriminated against a female firefighter by not allowing her to take a makeup promotion exam, though he did allow a male firefighter to do so. The city paid $75,000 this summer to settle the matter.

On three occasions in 2006, state hearing officers upheld union complaints that Geer or other city officials violated members' rights to conduct union business. Last year, three federal arbitrations ruled that the city failed to follow proper procedures when firing two paramedics and a fire inspector. All three employees returned to work.

Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard is in Geer's corner.

"If that's something he's selected for and he takes the position," Hibbard said, "we wish him the best of luck."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Clearwater fire Chief Geer in running to lead S.C. department 09/19/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 7:39pm]
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