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State to put China Grove Fire Department on probation

CHINA GROVE — China Grove’s Fire Department is facing a 12-month probation from the State Fire Marshal’s Office after failing an initial portion of its latest inspection.

The probation is due to inspectors in November finding at least two instances when the department didn’t respond to calls with enough personnel. A.C. Daniels, inspections supervisor for the State Fire Marshal’s Office, said at least four people and one fire engine must respond to all structure calls.

As a result, Daniels said the fire department would have to submit copies of all fire reports to the State Fire Marshal’s Office for the next 12 months. He said the probationary period would also require the department to draft a plan to adequately respond to all calls.

A violation of the probation could result in the fire department no longer being certified by the state as an official fire department, Daniels said. An example of a violation would be if the department failed to submit its fire reports.

“If they refuse to send reports, then they would automatically lose their grade,” he said.

When asked about the city’s reported violations, China Grove Town Manager Ken Deal said the criteria could have been met, but, if a call wasn’t documented properly, an inspector would look at the call as if it didn’t happen. Deal said during the tenure of former fire chief Jeff Gledhill, the fire department’s records weren’t as detailed as they could or should have been.

“The criteria could have been met; however, if it wasn’t documented, for the inspector it didn’t happen,” Deal said. “It’s what they based most of the inspection on, documentation.”

Daniels confirmed that if records weren’t kept adequately, it could have affected the town’s recent inspection.

During the probation, Daniels said the fire rating for China Grove would remain unchanged. Currently, the department has a 6/9s rating. Inside of the city, the fire rating is 6, Daniels said. The 9s rating applies outside of the city limits, though any house or business within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant is also a class six, Daniels said.

“If they meet the minimum response, then the results of the grading will be issued at that time,” Daniels said about the fire department’s probation.

Daniels said he couldn’t disclose the exact rating the China Grove Fire Department received during its latest inspection, but said it wasn’t worse than the current 6/9s rating.

Gledhill resigned in October, citing personal reasons. Subsequently, China Grove appointed Bostian Heights Fire Chief Mike Zimmerman to lead China Grove department in an interim role.

The Salisbury Post attempted to contact Gledhill for comments twice. The first time, Gledhill declined to speak on the record about his tenure as fire chief. No one came to the door of Gledhill’s house the second time.

Deal said he didn’t know how the violations played into Gledhill’s decision to resign. Deal said Gledhill simply called on a Monday and resigned unexpectedly.

“There were no issues that I was aware of,” Deal said. “The only thing we kept stressing to him was “we have an inspection. Are you ready? Is everything prepared? Are we OK?’ He kept saying yes.”

When asked about Gledhill’s resignation, China Grove Mayor Don Bringle also said he was surprised.

“Honestly, Jeff’s reasoning for leaving caught all of us off guard,” Bringle said. “We haven’t seen or heard from Jeff since that day, when he resigned.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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