CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The city of Charlotte has named a new leader for the Charlotte Fire Department as it works to diversify its ranks and build morale following the retirement of former Fire Chief Jon Hannan last August.
Reginald Johnson comes to the Queen City from Fairfax County, Virginia where he has been the assistant fire chief since 2015. He has been with the department since 2008.
Johnson, who has 24 years of experience, will take over on April 30.
“We have one of the top-ranked fire departments in the country, and so overall my goal is to maintain that status and that means having one of the safest fire departments with the best response times,” said Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt.
Channel 9 learned that more than 90 people were interviewed for the position.
Johnson will make $188,000.
"Reggie’s passion for the fire service is second only to his passion for people," City Manager Marcus D. Jones said. "He is an excellent communicator with a talent for relationship-building that will be instrumental in continuing Charlotte Fire Department’s track record of success."
The Fairfax County department has nearly 1,400 career staff and 300 volunteers operating out of 38 fire stations.
"I am honored, blessed and humbled to serve as Charlotte’s next fire chief," Johnson said. "I look forward to meeting the men and women who have cemented Charlotte Fire Department as a leader in fire service and emergency management. Together, I know we can accomplish great things."
Former Charlotte Fire Chief Jon Hannan spent 38 years with the department and 10 as its chief. Before he stepped aside, he had 42 fire stations and more than 1,000 firefighters under his command.
But his last few years were marked with several controversies. In 2014, Channel 9 uncovered the department paid one firefighter nearly $100,000 in overtime for working on the department's antique fire trucks.
At one point, firefighter Linda Lockhart said leaders bullied her.
Brown asked Lockhart what needs to be changed the most.
“The morale here,” Lockhart said. “I think it'll be a good change for Charlotte.”
Lockhart was the Charlotte’s first black female firefighter, but she wasn’t the only employee at the Charlotte Fire Department to speak out.
“We was getting treated unfairly,” Lockhart said. “It was more like favoritism. Whoever they liked on the list would get pulled from that list.”
Then in 2016, former arson investigator Crystal Eschert sued saying the Charlotte Fire Department fired her in retaliation after she raised concerns over building safety. A jury awarded her nearly $1.5 million.
"It's time for them to stop bullying people," Eschert told Channel 9 at the time.
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Chief Hannan's problems escalated last year when employees accused the department administration of discriminating against women and minorities who deserved promotions.
Channel 9 investigated after we obtained three anonymous letters alleging the department had an unfair and arbitrary promotional process.
The letters alleged Hannan manipulated the system to keep women and minorities in leadership at minimum levels.
Fire department leaders later admitted that they had a problem with diversity and struggled to hire women and minorities, but they said they were trying and they disputed the accusations in the anonymous letters that claimed qualified applicants were excluded.
But not long afterwards, Hannan announced he was stepping aside.
"I have come to realize that what I can do to move the department forward and up has been accomplished. It is time for me to pass it on," he said.
Channel 9 learned the department Johnson is leaving faced similar issues, including harrassment and intimidation.
A source involved in the interview process said they know about those claims and they have talked to people extensively about them.
City officials are satisfied Johnson was not involved in those scandals.
After Hannan retired, Pete Key took over the department on an interim basis.
He said he wanted the job permanently and his top priority was investing more resources to recruit diverse employees. But ultimately, city leaders decided to bring in someone from the outside.
JOHNSON STARTS APRIL 30
Johnson holds bachelor and master of science degrees, with a focus on emergency management, from the University of Maryland University College.
He and his wife Angie have an adult son and daughter, and say they look forward to making Charlotte their home.
His first day on the job is April 30.
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