South Carolina Fire Chief Indicted Over Asbestos in Station

The fire chief and the city administrator of Marion, South Carolina have been indicted for exposing firefighters and members of the public to asbestos in a fire department building.

Fire Chief Ralph Walton Cooper III and city administrator Alan Thomas Ammons were indicted on November 2, 2017 by a Marion County Grand Jury on three counts:

  1. Misconduct in Office
  2. Violation of the South Carolina Pollution Control Act
  3. Conspiracy to violate the South Carolina Pollution Control Act

The story got worse after the indictments were made public as two former employees, Engineer Baxley Howe and Assistant Chief Chris McKenzie, spoke out against Chief Cooper and Ammons.

WMBF quoted Howe as saying:

  • We were told by Chief Cooper to start removing tiles in the back room
  • We were told several times that we were to dispose of it in the dumpster that’s shared by the library and the fire department in the parking lot.
  • These guys knew that it was asbestos and it was brought to their attention multiple times, and they refused to do anything about it.

Chief McKenzie was quoted as saying:

  • The asbestos tiles were broken into pieces.
  • Hundreds and thousands of pieces and disposed of, and it was airborne. There was dust all over the fire station.
  • I’m concerned about my health and safety.
  • What’s going to happen because of the asbestos exposure 10, 15 years down the road?
  • I hope some medical monitoring is done for the firefighters and for the citizens who were exposed to this.

Ammons, the City Administrator, also serves as the city’s building inspector.

Here is a copy of the indictment: 364445763-Marion-indictments

Here is a copy of the South Carolina Pollution Control Act.

Here is the pertinent section making a violation a criminal offense:

SECTION 48-1-320. Penalties for violation of Pollution Control Act.

A person who wilfully or with gross negligence or recklessness violates a provision of this chapter or a regulation, permit, permit condition, or final determination or order of the department is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not less than five hundred dollars or more than twenty-five thousand dollars for each day’s violation or be imprisoned for not more than two years, or both.

WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

UPDATE: Here is additional coverage:

WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

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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