Sole Finalist for Augusta Fire Chief Spot Barely Reaches Interview Portion

The man being held up as the best candidate for Augusta Fire Chief barely scored high enough to interview.
(Augusta Fire Department)

10 out of a possible 20 points

Susan McCord, The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.

(MCT)

Apr. 26–The man being held up as the best candidate for Augusta Fire Chief is a former Marine who barely – under the city’s criteria – scored high enough to interview.

Antonio Burden, a 26-year veteran of DeKalb County Fire-Rescue, was the only applicant to make the cut to replace former Augusta Fire Chief Chris James, according to city officials who released his name only in response to an open records request.

The Chronicle requested the names of three other men who interviewed for the position with commissioners April 15, but so far the city has refused to release them.

“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations,” Burden launches his application with a quote, misspelling Orson Welles’ last name. “Thinking outside of the box is easy; creating inside one takes talent,” the Atlanta native continues.

Burden joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1990 as an aircraft firefighter and rescue specialist and received the national defense medal for his work during Operation Desert Storm, his application states. The medal is awarded to all who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces during wartime. Burden also trained and certified as a trainee for the Space Shuttle orbiter, then joined DeKalb Fire Rescue in 1994, it said.

In the department of nearly 700 sworn personnel, Burden serves as honor guard commander, and has assisted with the accident review board, oral review panels for new hires, development of fire marshal fees and obtaining sales tax funds for and developing a transition plan under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to his application.

Burden has an associate’s degree in paramedic technology, a 2019 Bachelor of Science in organizational leadership and is pursuing a master’s degree in homeland security, it says. He’s also served in the Atlanta branch of the NAACP, with the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia Plymouth Rock Lodge and on the DeKalb County medical authority board.

The city’s job posting through GovHR USA, a staffing company, says it emphasizes “leadership capacity” with the ideal candidate having a master’s degree, 10 years’ demonstrated leadership experience and an executive fire officer or chief fire officer certification. The successful candidate must relocate to Augusta-Richmond County, it says.

In a tally of how Burden met Augusta’s criteria, however, he scored with just 10 of a possible 20 points.

The application states candidates who score 0-10 points don’t get an interview, while those with 14 or more do. Candidates with a score of 10 are “considered” for an interview, it says.

On the scorecard, Burden lost points for not having a master’s degree, having fewer than seven years of management experience, not being an executive fire officer or chief fire officer 2 and having limited experience in ISO ratings, the system used to establish fire insurance rates. He received no possible points for having none of several National Incident Management System certifications.

His application also states “none noted” under a category called “human resources collective bargaining knowledge,” which might help him in Augusta. James and the commission have warred with the International Association of Firefighters Local 3357, of which some city firefighters are members, over human resources, safety and various other issues. In Augusta’s job advertisement, however, it says Professional Firefighters Local 3357 “represents on-shift members.”

The lack of clarity in Augusta’s relationship with the union was among numerous deficiencies cited in an independent study of operations performed last year. Also lacking were a chain of command, a unified mission, employee morale and leadership in general, the study said.

Despite the city’s refusal to release the names of other finalists as required by state open records law, the Augusta Chronicle obtained them from another government official April 14. The finalists were former Augusta Deputy Chief Sterling Jones; Assistant Fire Chief Anthony Jackson of Newport News, Va.; and Philadelphia Deputy Fire Chief Carl Randolph Sr.

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