Chief’s Actions Under Fire in New Mexico

These days, it is hardly newsworthy when a firefighter complains about a fire chief. However, a New Mexico firefighter has created headlines by formally accusing a fire chief of fireground misconduct that led to the unnecessary loss of at least one structure during a major wildland fire on March 7, 2011.

Grant County has launched an investigation into the allegations of firefighter Matthew G. Robertson against Chief Justin Toney of the Whiskey Creek Volunteer Fire Department. The events occurred at the Quail Ridge Fire, that burned 1,800 acres, destroyed 13 homes, damaged 47 structures, and caused an estimated $2.6 million in property damage.

According to Robertson’s complaint “there was at least one residential structure lost as a result of Chief Toney’s failure to allow his crews to follow the incident commander’s instructions.” Robertson also complained that during mop-up operations the day following the fire, the chief  “purposely disabled the pump engine on the department’s main brush engine”… whatever that means.

Robertson submitted his complaints in writing to the state fire marshal and to county officials. According to news reports, Robertson has only been with the department for 9 months and is currently suspended for not following SOPs himself.

About the allegations related to the Quail Ridge Fire, Chief Toney is quoted as saying “We followed every order we were given,” and about Robertson, Toney said “He is insubordinate, he gets loud with officers and shows rudeness to the public.”

One thing is for certain: there will be no winners in this mud-slinging battle.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • Tucker

    The newspaper article for this topic has a comments section where Robertson has now backed off of his claim about the house that was destroyed because he drove by and the house was still there (undamaged). He is standing by the rest of his claims. The remainder of the comments attack just about everyone involved in the story.

x

Check Also

Kentucky Firefighter Charged In CPR Training Scheme

A Kentucky firefighter has been charged with 52 criminal offenses related to billing local businesses for CPR training he was paid by his department to deliver. Timothy Deye resigned from the Erlanger Fire Department earlier this year after invoices were found indicating he was charging area businesses $30 per student per class.

NJ Deputy Chief Sues For Reverse Discrimination

A deputy chief in Plainfield, New Jersey is suing the city and his fire chief for reverse discrimination. Deputy Chief Jeffrey Courtney alleges that Fire Chief Frank Tidwell discriminated against him on account of his race.