More Police Fire Wars – South Carolina

There has been yet another police-fire wars incident, this time in South Carolina, and this time two firefighters ended up in jail. That makes three police-fire war cases in the news in the past 2 weeks!!!!

Fire Chief Andy Martin, 57, of the West Chester Volunteer Fire Department and his brother, volunteer firefighter Tommy Martin, 61, were arrested Saturday evening following an altercation with Chester County Sheriffs that occurred a day earlier at the scene of a jackknifed tractor-trailer accident on Rt. 9. They were charged with assault.

Sheriff Alex Underwood claims the brothers yelled obscenities and assaulted him and his officers following a dispute over traffic control at the accident scene. Sheriff Underwood was quoted by as saying:

·      “Assaulting a police officer will never be tolerated.”

·      “The law applies to everyone, regardless of who you are or what profession you are in.”

·      “It is unfortunate that some people think they are entitled to special treatment or think that they are above the law.”

Chief Martin was quoted as saying “I have volunteered out here for 40 years. I was the incident commander. I have devoted my whole adult life to the fire service.”

News reports indicate that a simmering feud over control of Chester County’s 911 dispatch system and the sheriff’s election may have sparked the altercation. Deputies apparently responded to the Friday afternoon crash initially where a tractor-trailer jackknifed and went off the highway. The deputies were reportedly released by state highway patrol who decided the road could remain open until wreckers arrived to return the tractor-trailer onto the roadway.

Apparently unhappy with deputies leaving the scene, Chief Martin allegedly made a remark over the radio, which in turn prompted Sheriff Underwood and several of his senior deputies to respond. According to Sheriff Underwood, he attempted to explain to Chief Martin why his deputies left at which point the fisticuffs began.

The brothers were held overnight Saturday night and arraigned Sunday morning. No word on why (1) if an assault occurred Friday afternoon at 4:15pm they were not arrested on the spot let alone over 24 hours later; (2) why when making a delayed arrest it became so urgent it had to take place at 8:00pm on a Saturday evening as opposed to the next day or even the next business day, or (3) why the overnight stay in jail was necessary. [I assume if we asked Sheriff Underwood he would insist petty retribution had nothing what-so-ever to do with it). The Martins were released on their own recognizance.

The dispute has prompted an emergency meeting of the fire chiefs from Chester County’s twelve volunteer fire departments. That meeting is scheduled for tomorrow.

Incidentally, Tommy Martin is a former elected official in Chester County, having served as a county councilman as well as on the school board.

More on the story.

Here’s Dave Statter’s coverage.

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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