This story was updated at 6:15 p.m. on April 25, 2013.
The man who served as the first operational head of Montgomery County’s first countywide Fire and Rescue Service died Wednesday at the age of 59. Thomas Carr had retired from Montgomery County’s Fire and Rescue Service in 2008 to serve as fire chief for Charleston, S.C. Carr had multiple system atrophy, a neurological disorder with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. He leaves behind his wife Anne, his son West, his daughter Amy, and his parents, brother and sister.
Services in Charleston are being planned.
County Executive Isiah Leggett said the news of Carr’s death left him “deeply saddened.”
“[Carr] will probably be best remembered as a world class leader responsible for helping generations of firefighters and as the architect of the Nation’s Urban Search & Rescue Response System and the County’s Urban Search and Rescue Team,” Leggett said in a statement. “He compiled an unparalleled record of public service and achievements and his loss is deeply felt.”
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said Carr “left a profound legacy.” He called Carr an “innovator” who “made a great impact on our region.”
Carr had worked for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service for 32 years when he was named Charleston’s fire chief five years ago.
He was 18 when he started working as a volunteer paramedic with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Chief Richard Bowers said on Thursday.
Four years later, Carr became a career firefighter and paramedic and worked his way through the ranks until 2004, when he took over as the first operational fire chief of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue service.
Before 2004, Montgomery County firefighters and rescue personnel did not fall under one single authority. That changed after the county council passed Bill 3603, which reshaped the county’s fire and rescue services, according to MCFRS Assistant Chief Scott Graham.
The legislation created a uniformed county fire chief to administer, direct and originate fire and rescue operations for the entire Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.
Managing and combining operations from the career and volunteer services was an “extremely challenging” task, Bowers said.
Carr presided over a department that grew into one of the nation’s largest combined career and volunteer firefighting agencies. It now has an annual budget of more than $200 million and around 2,000 personnel.
“[Carr] did a magnificent job,” Bowers said.
Besides shepherding the county’s fire services through the fundamental shift that took place in 2004, Carr never stopped working for his firefighters, Bowers said.
Carr supported health and wellness programs created to help firefighters and paramedics with the risks and health exposures that they face every day, Bowers said.
Sometimes it came down to making sure every one of his firefighters had the right gear.
After the Fire and Rescue Service received a federal grant to provide its career firefighters — but not Montgomery County’s hundreds of volunteer firefighters — an extra suit of protective gear, Carr and other regional fire chiefs traveled to Capitol Hill.
“He advocated for everyone to have a second set of personal protective equipment,” Bowers said.
“No matter career or volunteer, he fought to get it approved,” Bowers said.