Tennessee Fire Department Facing Suit and State Investigation

A volunteer fire department in Tennessee is facing a state investigation and two of its officers are facing a civil suit following the dismissal of a member.

The state comptroller is investigating the finances of the Hillsview Volunteer Fire Department, in McMinn County. According to Fire Chief John Benjamin Sneed, the investigation was prompted by a complaint by former firefighter Ronald Ledford, who had been terminated.

Ledford and several other firefighters are suing Chief Sneed and Lieutenant Ray Wilson, Jr., claiming that they illegally recorded their conversations in violation of Tennessee’s “Invasion of Privacy” laws. Tennessee is a one-party state, meaning that one party to a conversation must be aware it is being recorded for it to be legal. Violations of the law can result in criminal charges as well as civil liability.

The suit was filed earlier this year, and claims that information from the recordings was used to terminate Ledford. The plaintiffs are seeking statutory damages of $10,000 each plus $200,000 in punitive damages and attorneys fees.

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.
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