Police Fire Wars in Mississippi

A Mississippi fire chief and a county deputy sheriff are the latest participants in the ongoing Police-Fire Wars.

The incident occurred last Sunday at a motor vehicle accident in Poplarville, Mississippi. Allegedly the single vehicle involved in the crash was on its roof and its occupants were treated and transported.

The vehicle’s owner did not want to pay for a wrecker, so Pearl River County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Joe Garcia was planning on allowing an unidentified person to turn the vehicle back onto its wheels using a winch.

Poplarville Fire Chief Mike White had a concern about flipping the car due to the presence of leaking fluids and the proximity of onlookers. At one point Corporal Garcia physically restrained Chief White and later arrested and charged him. The episode was caught on tape.

As the video shows, the question again comes down to who was in charge… and as we have seen time and time again the way police officers tend to handle disputes over who is in charge is by arresting fire and EMS personnel.WLOX.com – The News for South Mississippi

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.
  • Steve Coulon

    Somebody should have brought a playpen and some toys and let the kiddies learn how to play nice together. This situation is so ridiculous it defies intelligent comment.

    Once again we see a lack of leadership on both sides. These two agencies should have sat down together a long time ago and get some kind of WRITTEN memorandum of understanding between the two agencies and then the bosses need to implement a policy and enforce it.

    This kind of kiddy crap is bad for all of us.

  • John W. Varone

    I am not one to jump to conclusion based on a news report, but in this case I have to say I am dumfounded by the deputies actions. I understand the intent of the deputy to try and help the motorist. I do not agree with his decision or actions.

    Speaking of tactics:
    The sheriff points out that it was a police scene, thus making that deputy the IC. Although I would rather see a unified command aspect, I will concede this point.

    In this case, the deputy showed poor situational awareness, and increased the risks to both responders and bystanders. The deputy failed to consider the consequences of the tactics he was using to achieve his objectives. To play it safe, I will presume that this deputy was lacking in the technical knowledge of combustibles associated with a motor vehicle collision. In this case, he had a technical specialist there to provide him with consultation on this subject matter. Or in other words, car fluids, like gasoline, can catch fire, so why not ask someone who knows a thing about fire, like the fire chief, how best to handle this situation. That would require the deputy to admit that he is not the ‘be all-end all’, that his training and experience has made him believe. Again this goes against the foundation of how police officers are groomed to arrive, take charge, restore order, resume patrol. The end of the grooming is also present, “do as I say or I will arrest you.”

    Now I say play it safe, because I get a strong sense of condescending attitude on the part of the deputy. Can this be contributed to chief “only being” a volunteer? This bothers me greatly. In my career I have met true professional volunteer chiefs, and some piss poor amateurs posing as career chiefs. We as the police profession seem to have a hard grasping this concept of professional volunteers. Getting to know our peers in each discipline will help alleviate this barrier.

    Hopefully the Sheriff and the Fire Chief can get together and work out the problems that this incident presented.

  • Thanks Steve and Bill (John W) for the input. All good points.

    If this was indeed a police scene – and the fire chief and the sheriff could not agree on an action plan, then the decision to flip the car over ultimately rests with the sheriff. It is his scene to screw up – just as when Fire Department A goes to Fire Department Bs fire on mutual aid and disagrees with what is being done.

    That does not automatically justify the arrest of an emergency response “partner” who disagrees with the IAP. The corporal in this case likely would not arrest another sheriff (particularly one of equal or greater rank) who similarly voiced concerns about his decision. He would find a way to work it out. That get’s us back to something we have discussed in the past – that many police officers and sheriffs view firefighters and EMS personnel as “them”… part of the great masses who must comply with what ever they say – as opposed to viewing all of us being on the same team.

  • Shane

    Great point Curt about the “them” mentality. I’ve been reading the Denver Post article questioning the time it took for ambulances to get on scene. The point that the article keeps making is that officers kept requesting ambulances that were either not getting the message, were not responding, or were unable to respond.

    One MAJOR problem I have noticed since 9/11 is the continued reluctance by Police and Fire/EMS to train together in many communities. Unified Command is great, as long as everyone has a minor understanding of the abilities of the others. Not being at Aurora I can’t say definitively but I was guess that the ambulances were waiting for an “all clear”, as many agencies train, before making entry into a possible active-shooter environment. Hard telling at this point.

    Back to Mississippi, I understand each state is different but in the states in which I have worked an emergency scene involving the fire department is that department’s scene until relinquished to another agency. Apparently Mississippi either has different laws or this deputy just doesn’t know. One thing I do know is that we should be way past this already. How is the information not being learned in this day and age of instant information?

    Great info Chief, thanks for the posts.


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