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.