Charleston names new fire chief from Md.

A fire chief from Maryland will take over the S.C. department that lost nine firefighters to a furniture store blaze last year, leading to the retirement of its longtime head.

Montgomery County, Md., Fire Chief Thomas Carr must still be confirmed by the Charleston city council, but unanimous approval is expected, Mayor Joe Riley said Monday after announcing the pick.

“He is a career firefighting professional that came up through the ranks and is currently one of the most highly respected fire service professionals in the country,” Riley said.

Local roots likely gave the Charleston native a slight competitive edge. Carr also offered to train several staff at the Charleston department following the deadly blaze, while a staff member at his Montgomery County, Md., Fire and Rescue Service was on a review committee looking into the furniture store fire.

Former Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas retired in June, a year after the deadly Sofa Super Store blaze. The announcement of his departure came amid growing questions by union officials and consultants over the department's outdated procedures and equipment and whether the men's deaths could have been prevented.

Riley said Monday Carr can help the department rebuild.

“He's a leader,” Riley said. “His leadership ability will give the men and women of our department the inspiration and direction that they want.”

Riley said Carr also will help the Charleston Fire Department gain accreditation, a rare and highly coveted designation that Carr helped the Maryland department obtain.

A 30-year firefighting veteran, Carr has served as fire chief for four years. He was asked to assist in response efforts for both the Oklahoma City bombing and the Pentagon attack of Sept. 11, 2001, Riley said.

Carr has a bachelor's degree from National University and a master's degree from the University of Maryland. He's also a Harvard University fellow.

He released a statement Monday announcing his retirement from the Maryland department, saying he would leave with mixed emotions.

“Tough decision (a lot of lost sleep and pro and con lists), but it's the right decision for my family and me,” Carr wrote.

He was one of nearly 140 people who applied for the position as Charleston fire chief. Last week, Carr and six others interviewed with Riley and other city officials for the post.

Carr said he could take over as chief as early as November, though an exact date is unknown.