Florence fires its fire dept.
The entire Florence fire department was fired Monday, and a list of volunteers willing to step into the department was approved.
The city council decided it was going be easier to restructure the department than it would be to “keep going through this,” acting fire chief Terry Britton said.
“This” is controversy that began in November.
The latest episode in the saga happened Saturday, mayor Bob Gayle said, when only two firefighters — Britton and Matt Williams, who also is a council member, showed up at a burning building at a former quarry.
Another firefighter, Zane Slater, radioed dispatchers to cancel Peabody and Marion fire departments, which were en route to provide help, Gayle said.
“He said he was told by the property owner that help wasn’t needed,” Gayle said.
The council expressed concern Monday about Williams’ and Britton’s safety in fighting the fire alone.
“They’ve got to be able to trust the people to back them up,” Gayle said. “I generally believe in my heart of hearts that this is going to be safer.”
Two people can’t make up a fire department, he said.
“A dysfunctional fire department that just can’t get their act together and show up — I can’t play these games,” Gayle said. “I can’t turn the other cheek. I can’t look away.”
The controversy springs from a Nov. 20 fire during which firefighter Evan Slater, son of then-chief Mark Slater, allegedly had angry words with a property owner.
The property owner filed a complaint Dec. 3. A copy of the complaint provided by the Florence city clerk did not include the name, date, or address of the complainer.
It did say Evan Slater was “very surly, accusing [me] of setting fire and adding to the fire. Not watching the fire. [Slater] was drunk. Accused us of neglect. Was threatening to fight with a 62-year-old,” it stated.
The incident apparently took place at 3rd and Marion Sts. Mark Slater was asked during Dec. 6 meeting whether he was clear on expectations regarding handling of a complaint at that address.
Two weeks later, council member Jeannie Meirowsky asked Mark Slater whether the complaint was being handled.
At its Feb. 28 meeting, council members met behind closed doors with Evan Slater. He was indefinitely suspended after that meeting.
The council fired Mark Slater March 7.
Asked Monday whether he thought the city now had adequate fire protection, Gayle answered, “In a sense, I would say yes.”
Britton had a list of willing volunteers at Monday’s meeting, and Meirowsky moved to dissolve the fire department and install the volunteers.
The city retained four or five existing department members. Some of the news volunteers have been part of the department before, Gayle said.
“The governing body was very concerned about the safety of everyone in Florence,” Gayle said.
Fire department candidates approved by council members include Britton, Williams, Brad Morgan, Bruce Fetrow, Ken Hoffman, Joe Box, Andrew Weber, Ed Robinson Jr., Josh Inlow, and Bob Ogle. Also accepted were young recruits and cadets Carly Fetrow and Gracie Mackey; backup drivers Reilly Reid, Phil Baldwin, and Bob Gayle; and daytime alternates Andy Cogdill, Eli Riggs, and Jeremy McCullough.