Nearly a month ago, Chief Fred Crosby made plans to retire from Horry County Fire Rescue.
But when he met with County Administrator Chris Eldridge, the two decided the announcement should wait until after Atlantic Beach Bikefest. Local officials had spent nearly a year planning for the event, which saw three murders in 2014, and they wanted the emergency crews’ leadership to remain intact throughout the busy Memorial Day weekend.
So it was no surprise when the chief handed in a notice Wednesday saying his last day would be Friday.
“It was the cleanest way to do it,” Crosby said. “Everybody was a little nervous about Bikefest and we didn’t think they needed anything to add to the nervousness.”
Eldridge said Deputy Chief Scott Thompson will assume Crosby’s post until a replacement is named.
Eldridge called Thompson a good selection because the 25-year veteran knows the issues facing the agency.
“He knows the department well,” Eldridge said. “It’ll be in good hands. He’ll do a good job.”
Thompson would not say whether he plans to apply for the chief position full-time and insists he wants to focus on the interim post.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of the budget process anyway,” Thompson said. “I know what’s going on and I know what the presentations are going to be.”
Thompson said his role will include managing the contract for fire equipment the department received this past budget year, and preparing for the insurance rating evaluation of properties in the county in the fall.
The county is also working on getting a radio system upgrade, and Thompson will be working with the county on behalf of fire/rescue, as well.
“Those are the big ones,” Thompson said of the department’s issues. “We just got through Bike Week, so we’ll have to do an after action report with both that and Bikefest. And we’ll have to get ready for summer. Our busy season is here now. We get a week or two as far as the large influx of people, so our weekends will start picking up.”
Thompson spent seven years as assistant chief before assuming the role of deputy chief a little more than a year ago.
As for Crosby, he plans to take classes to earn his real estate license this summer. When asked about the reasons behind his departure, the chief remained positive.
“It was just time,” he said. “I’m leaving on good terms. I’ve got nothing bad to say about the county or anything.”
Often referred to as a “fireman’s fire chief,” Crosby spent 34 years as a firefighter in Hanover County, Va., before coming to Horry County in November 2012. During his tenure, Horry County Council raised taxes to pay for additional firefighters and equipment.
But Crosby’s relationship with county management grew strained in recent months.
Crosby was suspended for a week, without pay, in December for inefficiency in performing management duties, violation of county policies and because he reportedly “caused unharmonious relationships with your supervisors and coworkers,” according to an Horry County disciplinary report.
After seeing those comments, Crosby refuted the report with the following statement in the employee’s comment section: “I respectfully disagree with the assumptions in this. I do believe I have failed to communicate adequately and will modify my actions.” He has never commented on the matter beyond his statement in the report, which was issued and signed by Eldridge.
Eldridge’s comments on the report indicate there was an issue with informal blogs, emails and other communications to staff reportedly sent by Crosby for “rumor control.” The report accused Crosby of “failing to properly follow your chain of command to the Administrator with regard to various issues, engaging in unauthorized communications to staff concerning ‘brown outs’ and propay and initiating direct communications with County Council without consulting or informing Administrator.” It was unclear in the disciplinary report what Crosby was referring to as a brown out.
The report accused Crosby of trying to go around the county’s procurement processes to accomplish unapproved agenda items, which were disapproved by Eldridge. It was unclear what those agenda items were.
Eldridge also criticized Crosby’s clothing, calling it “unprofessional” when Crosby wears a ball cap. Eldridge said Crosby’s attire portrayed a negative image for the fire/rescue department and caused “embarrassment.”
In the report, Eldridge claimed Crosby failed to work with him to address overtime cost overruns, creating a budget shortfall and “unharmonious relationships.”
Crosby began reporting directly to Eldridge in September when Paul Whitten, assistant administrator for public safety, resigned.
An examination of Crosby’s only performance review, which was in July 2013 and issued by Whitten, called Crosby an “extraordinary leader” whose “strongest trait is his ability to effectively communicate.”
After he was hired, Crosby wasted no time recruiting support for a 3.5 millage property tax increase proposed to help the county’s ailing fire department. By June, Crosby learned the squad would be able to replace an older fleet of vehicles, increase its training and increase its manpower at six stations when County Council approved a 6 mill tax increase as part of its 2014 budget.
Under Crosby’s plan, the department will replace 18 vehicles that are at least 23 years old. It will also have the funds to allow for overtime, which was cut during the downturn of the economy in recent years. It will now have a third rescue unit, and take six stations in the county to three-man engine companies.
The department has been sued several times by current or former firefighters under Crosby’s short watch. The chief, himself, has been sued twice.
Despite those difficulties, Crosby is staying upbeat as his tenure at Horry County Fire Rescue comes to a close. He said his plans include “family, fishing and just enjoying the beach life.” The chief has a home on the South Strand and said a friend has offered him a part-time job selling residential real estate if he earns his license.
Crosby noted that he appreciates his time working with local firefighters.
“I treasured the experience with them,” he said, “and I treasured my time here.”
Contact CHARLES D. PERRY at 626-0218 or on Twitter @TSN_CharlesPerr.
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or on Twitter @TSN_JRodriguez.