Commissioner: Fire chief was looking to leave

Chief David Foster resigned abruptly Monday after more than six years on the job. His resignation was effective immediately, said Shelia Edwards, a spokeswoman for the county CEO.

Edwards declined to state a reason for the resignation. Foster could not be reached for comment.

On Friday, the county fired four firefighters after an investigation found they neglected their duties in their response to a Dunwoody fire that resulted in the death of 74-year-old Ann Bartlett.

Edwards would not say if that fire led to Foster's resignation.

County commissioners said they don’t know if Foster was forced out, nor have they received a copy of his resignation letter.

“We learned about this after the media. We didn’t know he was going to leave,” said Commissioner Larry Johnson, the presiding officer. “Since he came in, Chief Foster built several fire stations and increased response times.”

Commissioners said Foster had a stellar record, but occasionally clashed with DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis and public safety director William “Wiz” Miller.

“I was very disappointed he resigned and I hope it wasn’t about the fatality,” Commissioner Jeff Radar said. “All indications show he’s been very effective, especially consolidating fire and rescue, and reducing administrative overhead. We still haven’t seen that consolidation by the public safety director.”

Foster had been looking for a new job since Ellis took office last year, Commissioner Kathie Gannon said. The fatal Dunwoody fire hastened that move, she said.

Last month, Foster pleaded with commissioners to not cut his budget, criticizing Ellis' proposed changes that would result in losing 64 firefighters. The next day, the CEO issued a statement saying Foster was wrong and no firefighters would be cut.

“His record of service has been commendable,” Gannon said. “Everyone is really saddened about what happened in Dunwoody. ... [His resignation] is an example of his professionalism because the buck stops here and that’s his desk.”

On Jan. 24, Bartlett called 911 after fire broke out in her Dunwoody home. Firefighters arrived at the woman’s home, saw no signs of fire and left the scene, according to an investigative report.

About five hours later, neighbors called 911 to report Bartlett’s home was fully engulfed in flames. Firefighters returned to the house and found the woman dead.

Bartlett’s autopsy is still pending and her family is considering a civil suit. Pitts Carr, an attorney for Bartlett’s family, declined to comment Tuesday.

A spokesman for Dunwoody Police said a criminal investigation into the firefighters’ response is pending.

On Friday, DeKalb officials fired Acting Officer William J. Greene, Capt. Tony L. Motes, along with Battalion Chiefs Lesley Clark and Bennie J. Paige.

Capt. Sell Caldwell, who also responded to the fire, remains under investigation.

Personnel records obtained by the AJC show all but Caldwell had clean records with evaluations that showed reflected they exceeded standards.

Records show Caldwell was suspended for 52 1/2 hours in 2008 for using inappropriate language while addressing a subordinate employee. He was also cited twice for excessive absenteeism and not properly supervising an employee.

Newly named Acting Chief Eddie O’Brien, a 24-year-old veteran, was not available for comment Tuesday, Edwards said. O’Brien served as deputy chief and is the brother of acting police Chief William O’Brien.

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