YCMTSU in Texas Fire Department

There is a rather bizarre case out of Texas in the news today, alleging that a fire chief used fire department funds inappropriately, and then fired an assistant chief who was cooperating with law enforcement officials to investigate the financial improprieties. The Golden Hammer is reporting that a former assistant chief, Chuck Grant, has filed a whistleblower suit against the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department, Montgomery County ESD #10, and Fire Chief Gary Vincent.

A copy of the complaint was not available on Lexis or the courthouse web site, but I was able to confirm with the court that a suit was filed. I reached out to Chief Grant’s attorney and requested a copy of the complaint, but have not heard back. I say this because the allegations are rather scandalous.

According to The Golden Hammer, the suit contends that Chief Vincent hired Elise Noriega in 2019 as a battalion chief for $123,000 a year, despite the fact she had no training or qualifications in firefighting. Her assignment was to manage communications including social media. The Golden Hammer also cites sources as suggesting that despite Chief Vincent being married, he and Noriega were involved romantically prior to her hiring, and that their relationship contributed to her being hired.

Battalion Chief Noriega was promoted to Assistant Fire Chief with a base salary of $142,000 in November, 2020. The Golden Hammer quotes from the complaint that Chief Grant was terminated in December, 2020 “because Mr. Vincent found out that he [Grant] had spoken with an investigator from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office about Mr. Vincent’s misconduct.”

Chief Grant filed suit in Montgomery County 284th Judicial District Court on January 13, 2021 alleging whistleblower retaliation. The Golden Hammer is reporting that Chief Vincent has been placed on a leave of absence, and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office is investigating allegations of financial improprieties. More on the story.

UPDATE: March 5, 2021: The entire Emergency Services District board for ESD #10 has resigned. The local news media initially reported they did not know what prompted the resignations but they updated their report at 5PM today to connect it to the ongoing legal problems associated with Chief Vincent, and the lawsuit by Chief Grant. More on the story.

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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