Santa Ride Leads to Suspensions of 3 in Grinchville

A South Carolina fire chief, captain and firefighter have been suspended for 90 days because they allowed Santa to ride on a truck during a parade last December.

The Anderson County Fire Commissioners suspended three members of the Starr Fire Department for allegedly violating county policy by allowing an unauthorized person (Santa) to ride on a county vehicle.  The discipline follows a month long “investigation”.

The 90 day suspensions began last week. According to now suspended Starr Fire Chief Gary Shaw, he has been told the 90 day suspension is not all he has to look forward to. The county has demoted him to firefighter and prohibited him from serving in any officer’s role for at least one full year. Chief Shaw has been with the Starr Fire Department for 42 years and served as chief for the past 22 years.

However, a number of questions about the discipline are being raised.

First of all, the vehicle in question was apparently not owned by the county, but rather belonged to the Starr Fire Department. They recently bought the Dodge 3500 chassis with the intent of customizing it for use as a brush unit. It was essentially just an unlettered stake body pickup and not in service as an emergency vehicle.

Secondly, the “unauthorized person” who was allowed to ride on the vehicle (“Santa”), was actually a Starr fire captain posing as Santa. He was one of those suspended.

So how was a charge of allowing an unauthorized person to ride on a county vehicle sustained… when it was not a county vehicle and the person who supposedly was unauthorized, actually was authorized?

And seriously, they suspended Santa himself?

Makes you wonder whether the Grinch has left Whoville and taken up residence in Anderson County?

Then there’s the question of who gets punished when a volunteer firefighter is suspended, the member or the community? And 90 days for a first offense? What is really going on here? YCMTSU!!!

A meeting of concerned citizens was held in Starr this weekend attended by over 100 people. To put that into perspective the population of Starr is  just 180. The citizens are concerned not only about fire protection for the next 90 days but the apparent unfairness of the discipline imposed.

FOX Carolina 21

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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