Several firefighters in the Gaston County town of Stanley told Channel 9 they quit after they were told to reapply for their jobs.
Channel 9 captured the moments some of the Stanley firefighters turned in their gear. They tried to use their key cards but realized they were locked out.
The firefighters said neighboring departments are providing mutual aid, so service won’t be lost. But those who spoke to Channel 9′s Ken Lemon on Wednesday said they are done there.
Ashlin Hodges said she had a couple of classes left to complete to become a certified firefighter. But Hodges, a volunteer, quit on Wednesday.
“I won’t come back until I see my two chiefs,” she said.
She is talking about former chief Eric Withers and former assistant chief Michael Hullett. On Monday night, the town council consolidated their jobs and appointed an interim full-time fire chief to hire a full-time staff.
In August, Hullet was given the North Carolina Firefighter of the Year Award.
Firefighter Michael Russell quit on Tuesday.
“Not even offered the opportunity to apply for his position,” he said.
Fire inspector Claude Wilson said he has been a firefighter for 51 years. He quit on Wednesday.
“The way things happened, that was kind of underhanded I thought,” Wilson said.
Russell and Wilson said 17 to 22 firefighters simply dropped off their gear and quit their volunteer or part-time jobs rather than reapply for new full-time jobs. It was a tough choice for firefighter John Dancoff.
“Today is bittersweet,” Dancoff said.
He grew up in Stanley.
“At 5, 7 years old, I heard the whistle go off and that’s what sparked an interest in me to become a firefighter,” he said.
He said he lost faith in the system.
“These decisions were made essentially in a vacuum,” Dancoff said.
The new interim fire chief as well as the public safety supervisor contradict what firefighters told Lemon on Wednesday. They said only a few firefighters have quit, and they also said they’ve received 12 new applications with more coming in.
‘I felt betrayed’
“Over 300 years of experience thrown on a pile on the floor and walked out the door because of a lack of professionalism from the town,” Hullett said Thursday.
He accuses town leaders of turning their backs on the firefighters.
Hullett said he was never told he was fired, but someone told him his position was eliminated.
His work email was suddenly shut down. His key to the department stopped working and he was told to retrieve any personal items he had inside.
“I felt betrayed,” Hullett said.
Someone called him from the town council meeting and told him the council eliminated his position and the chief’s position, Hullett said.
Both worked part-time.
“I couldn’t believe it and with no warning,” Hullett said.
He got an email on his city fire department email account.
“Make arrangements to put up personal items that you may need from the fire department,” Hullett said.
He said right after that, his email shut down and he was locked out from accessing the department.
“We were just turned away,” Hullett said. “With no voice. No input. Nothing.”
He said the part-time and volunteer firefighters were told they had to reapply for full-time jobs, so some quit.
The mayor spoke to Channel 9′s Ken Lemon by phone and said the town first suggested this plan in 2019.
“They have relayed to me in the past going back to 2019 that they could not take a full-time fire position because they already work full-time for the city of Charlotte,” Stanley Mayor Steven Denton said.
Denton said his new full-time interim chief has already hired six full-time workers and they are getting help from neighboring fire departments.
“We have coverage,” Denton said. “We have not missed a call since the interim chief has taken over and the town of Stanley is fully covered.”
The mayor said despite how things look, the town never fired any of the firefighters.
Denton said he has been friends with the chief and assistant chief since they were children, and he wishes both men would remain with the department as part-time employees.
(WATCH BELOW: Charlotte Fire launches accelerated program to recruit firefighters)