City fire chief announces retirement

Charlottesville Fire Chief. Photo: Kelly Kollar Charlottesville Fire Chief. Photo: Kelly Kollar

Chief Charles Werner said he’s calling it quits this summer after a 37-year career at the Charlottesville Fire Department. Werner started at the department at 18 years old, became chief in 2005, and in January, his department received the insurance industry’s top Class 1 rating, which translates into lower premiums for residents.

Werner started a free smoke alarm program, received four Virginia Governor’s Awards for Fire Service Excellence and was named National Career Fire Chief of the Year in 2008 by the International Fire Chiefs Association.

He raked in millions in grants to modernize the city fire department, and last year opened a long awaited, state-of-the-art station on Fontaine Avenue.

His tenure was not without controversy. The Fontaine station’s contractor has filed a $1.4 million suit against the city for changes that delayed the project’s completion and added to its cost. And in February, a personnel appeals board overturned his firing of mechanic J.R. Harris.

Werner, 55, said those issues had nothing to do with his decision to retire, but significant job opportunities that have come his way the past few months did. “It looks like there are a lot of exciting things out there,” he said. “I get to decide what I want to do and when.”

And when he steps away sometime this summer, Werner said he’ll look forward to having coffee with his wife without worrying about the weather, if someone is hurt or being on call 24/7.