Acting Prince George's County Fire Chief Darrell C. Odom was replaced yesterday by another interim chief, the agency's third leader in less than three months.
Odom, who was brought back from retirement in April by County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), took charge of the 1,900-member department after the resignation of Fire Chief Ronald D. Blackwell in August and was considered a favorite to take on the post permanently.
The decision to remove him now, said county sources familiar with the personnel move, came after Johnson realized that his choice had little chance of being confirmed by the County Council. Court records show that Lt. Col. Odom, a supporter during Johnson's run for county executive two years ago, has been convicted of simple assault and has been arrested two other times.
Since taking on the interim post, Odom became embroiled in a controversy over the appearance of Prince George's firefighters on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," department officials said. Elmer Mahaffey and two department members who helped rescue him from a Feb. 22 house fire appeared on the show in September. But a volunteer firefighter -- who was the first to reach Mahaffey in the burning house -- was not included. The volunteer, who is black, filed a discrimination complaint, later determined to be unfounded. The incident reignited tensions between career firefighters and volunteers.
Odom will be replaced by Lt. Col. Lawrence H. Sedgwick Jr., who most recently worked as head of risk management for the department. He and Odom were among four internal candidates being considered by Johnson to fill the chief's position. The county will now launch a national search, county Public Safety Director Vernon Herron said.
Prince George's officials yesterday initially refused to confirm that a new acting chief had been named. Later, Herron released a short statement saying, "Odom today submitted his intention to retire."
Herron said in the statement, "I want to thank Chief Odom for leading the department during this critical interim period and for his career of dedicated service to Prince George's County."
Odom, however, said the decision was not his.
"This is a decision that is up to the county executive to make," said Odom, reached as he left fire department headquarters yesterday evening. "I have no hard feelings."
Odom said he had no warning that he would be replaced. "Nobody has come to me and asked me anything," he said.
Herron announced Odom's departure at a meeting yesterday with fire department senior staff members, according to officers at the meeting. He also announced Sedgwick's appointment, which is effective immediately. Sedgwick followed up with a discussion of the challenges facing the department.
Odom's abrupt departure marks the second time this year that a fire chief has left the county after losing favor with Johnson. Blackwell, who was appointed by Johnson's predecessor, Wayne K. Curry (D), took a similar post in Anne Arundel County when he believed Johnson intended to oust him.
After Odom was appointed interim chief in August, reports surfaced of the arrests in his past.
Odom, 49, was found guilty in 1980 of simple assault and sentenced to 10 days in jail and fined $300, according to D.C. Superior Court records. The jail time and $200 of the fine were suspended. Two years later, Odom was charged with possessing a prohibited weapon and simple assault. The charges were never prosecuted, records show.
In 1992, he was charged with simple assault in an incident involving his wife at their Northwest Washington home, court records show. The case was eventually dismissed.
Staff writer Hamil R. Harris and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.