Tensions flared again between firefighters and town council members of Greensboro during the Monday night meeting on April 12.
During the meeting, the entire body of Greensboro firefighters gathered in the town councilroom that night in order to present the official plan for separation that the town council had told the volunteers to create and present.
The presentation outlined how the firefighters would continue working closely with the community, providing services under their own name, rather than under the town’s name.
This push for separation from the town, backed by the entire fire department, grew from the firefighter’s claims that the town was misusing funds and neglecting the purchase of required equipment.
One such example was that it took the council 10 months to approve the purchase of bunker gear for Greensboro Chief Doug Styles, and that the firefighter’s had been requesting, for several months, that the town purchase new air tanks.
The air tanks had yet to be purchased as of the April 12 meeting.
At the start of the Monday night meeting, Councilmember Libby Henderson – who is also the wife of Greensboro Town Manager Dennis Henderson – brought up the fact that the firefighters had gathered to discuss the separation.
While Henderson thanked the firefighters and the gathered group of locals who had come to support the fire department, she followed up by saying that it was, under her belief, impossible for the town to discuss any plans for separation.
For her reasons, Hendersons stated several lines in the fire services contract between the town of Greensboro and Gadsden County, which Henderson interpreted to mean that the town was unable to separate.
Henderson said she had researched the matter on her own and had discovered that the town’s contract with the county prohibited them from assigning the fire service responsibilities to any other agency, while also prohibiting the town from terminating its fire service contract with the county with special clauses and notice – a notice that the town did not have the time to initiate.
“The town cannot, under its contract with the county, allow there to be any separation or allow the fire department to assume any duties under that contract,” said Henderson. “I have studied the contract. I have discussed the issues with the attorney that drafted the contract, I have discussed it with someone who was instrumental in working for the county when this contract was negotiated in 2018, and I have discussed it with our county commissioner to get the position of the county.”
Henderson also combated the fire department’s claims that the funds provided to the town on behalf of the fire department were funds belonging to the fire department.
According to Henderson, the funds provided by the county could not be assigned to another third-party group, but were assigned solely to the town of Greensboro.
“These funds are not, as you guys have alleged, the fire department’s funds,” said Henderson. “They are not. It’s money paid to the town of Greensboro.”
Henderson also said that the contract specified that any dispute with the contract should be settled with the county administrator’s office.
“Not by a member of the fire department coming here and accusing us of lying and taking the money,” said Henderson. “You are obviously welcome to express your public opinion, but that’s not for us to have to answer to the fire department.”
“You guys are all welcome to say when you are not happy,” said Henderson, who then directed her comments at Greensboro Assistant Fire Chief Daniel Hunter and the fire department’s representative through this process, Joe Parramore. “Mr. Hunter, you have made it very clear, you and Mr. Parramore both, that you are not happy with this situation.”
Henderson stated that she believed it was time Hunter left the department.
“I think it is probably time for you to offer your services to a different volunteer fire department – and anybody else who wants to go with you,” said Henderson. “This entire situation has grown and grown and become a problem. If you are not happy…I’m sorry.”
Through Chief Hunter and the other firefighters’ persistence in wanting a separation from the town, Henderson said that the firefighters have put the council in the position of ‘just wanting it to go away.’
“I have appreciated everything this fire department has ever done,” added Henderson, following up with an encouragement that Hunter and any other unhappy firefighters should leave the department.
Henderson then made a motion that the town would decline to consider any further the separation of the town and the fire department.
Her motion also specified that the council would direct the town manager to continue to administer the contract between the town and the county, and any expenditure from the fire department would be brought before the town council for approval.
The motion was seconded, and no councilmember offered comments or discussion before the council voted, unanimously, to support Henderson’s motion.
The matter to discuss separation between the town and the Greensboro Volunteer Fire Department was removed, indefinitely, from the council’s agenda.
Moving on, Henderson stated that she had concerns regarding the Greensboro Volunteer Fire Department’s Facebook page’s operation and the fact that the page provided what Henderson felt was false information on the fire department’s status to the general public.
Chief Hunter spoke up, saying that the page would be undergoing changes and edits once the separation was complete.
With that comment, Henderson reminded Chief Hunter that the separation would not be happening.
“I’m not sure if you’re listening, Mr. Hunter,” said Henderson. “We just voted not to separate from the fire department. We’re not discussing it anymore – it’s over.”
Chief Hunter then addressed the council, saying that if he left, the entire fire department’s force would leave with him.
“If I get up and walk out that door, you will cease to have a fire department. Most likely, every one of these volunteers will do the same,” said Hunter.
“That’s a risk we are willing to take,” said Henderson.
At that, Chief Hunter stood and left the room.
The other firefighters in the room followed after him.
While the firefighters were leaving, Chief Hunter radioed to the Gadsden County dispatch center, informing them that the Greensboro Volunteer Fire Department was “out of service, cease[s] to exist.”
Any calls for service within the Greensboro jurisdiction would instead be sent out to Quincy, Mount Pleasant, or Sycamore fire departments.
Henderson asked the firefighters to turn in their bunker gear, truck keys, and any equipment belonging to the town.
Greensboro Council President William Willis, Jr. then directed Town Manager Dennis Henderson to get in touch with the county and let them know that Greensboro will not be responding to fires in the immediate future.
“We will be looking to find some other firefighters,” said Willis. “Let him know what the situation is, coming from you.”
“I hate that it has ended like this,” added Willis. “We’ll do the best we can to find some more firefighters and see what we can do from there.”
“I hate it too – this is not where I wanted to be,” said Councilmember Henderson.
After the meeting, the former firefighters of Greensboro confirmed to The Gadsden County News Service that they had turned in their gear and would no longer be serving under the Greensboro name.
Not wanting to leave the community of Greensboro abandoned, former Assistant Chief Hunter said that all 12 of Greensboro’s firefighters had joined the Sycamore Volunteer Fire Department, which provides assistance to the communities of West Gadsden, which includes Greensboro.
Ashley Hunter is the editor of The Havana Herald, Chattahoochee News-Herald, and Sneads Sentinel, and a member of the Gadsden County News Service.