‘No notice’: Dozens of North Carolina firefighters leave town department amid shakeup

16 November 2023

STANLEY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The top two fire officials in the Gaston County town of Stanley are out of a job and dozens of firefighters walked off the job to support them.

Michael Hullett, the former deputy fire chief, says the town never used the word “fired,” but they told him how he could go about gathering his things from the fire department.

Queen City News got a video Wednesday afternoon of former Stanley Fire Chief Eric Withers taking out several items from the Stanley Fire Department.

His former firefighters went with him, resigning in support of the former chief and assistant chief.

One of them sent Queen City News a photo that he says is a collection of gear from Tuesday night inside the fire station.

“They weren’t even given a warning. There was no notice this was going to happen,” said Michael Russell, a former Stanley firefighter.

Russell worked for the Stanley Fire Department for three years.

He says he’s one of 23 firefighters of about 32, all part-time, to resign after the town of Stanley told the chief and assistant chief they were out of a job.

“It’s a brotherhood; you develop trust and confidence in your leadership. They took that away from us,” said Russell.

The town manager, Heath Jenkins, says no employees were fired and that the former chief and assistant chief, who were part-time, had a “priority at their full-time jobs” at fire departments in other locations.

Jenkins wrote in an email, “The Stanley Fire Department is a part-time department made up of part-time and volunteers. That is the reason the council is moving in a new direction with a full-time chief, and a combination of full, part-time and volunteers.”

Jenkins says there have been some resignations in the department, but also people applying for open positions and he’s confident that the town has “not drastically diminished” fire protection.

“They’re not hung out to dry. Every town has a mutual aid agreement with other stations,” said Russell.

Russell remains frustrated that firefighters left the job they love over issues with the town.

“We’re just fed up with the things that go on with the budget and not being able to staff the ladder or the engines properly, not having the manpower here. We’ve just had enough,” said Russell.

The town has an interim fire chief and public safety director in place.

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