Granite Quarry fire chief doesn’t appreciate being ‘berated’ by former town board member

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 5, 2018

GRANITE QUARRY — Angered by comments about his department by a former alderman, Granite Quarry Fire Chief Dale Brown offered his resignation Monday night — but the current town board would not accept it.

“It’s not right to come up here and be berated,” said Brown, who has been fire chief close to five years.

Brown’s resignation offer came after Mike Brinkley questioned potential budget increases for Fire Department staffing, deletions for needed equipment, the answering of too many mutual aid calls to “far-flung” districts and what he considers the lack of a long-range capital needs plan.

Brinkley was most recently Granite Quarry’s mayor pro tem before his election defeat in November.

“In my opinion,” Brinkley said, “these events represent a systemic failure of leadership in the Fire Department, and throwing more money at a perceived problem is not the answer.”

Brinkley spoke during a public-comment period, and it happened that Brown was giving his monthly Fire Department report next.

“I don’t appreciate being called out in this situation unnecessarily,” Brown said.

If Brinkley could do a better job, the chief added, he was welcome to walk up and take the job immediately. He emphasized that comments by the public are opinions, not necessarily facts.

“I’m done; I don’t need it,” Brown said of the criticism and offering to resign, if that’s what the board wanted.

Alderman John Linker refused to accept his resignation, saying it wasn’t a solution. Mayor Bill Feather said offering his resignation to the board was inappropriate, and that it was Town Manager Phil Conrad’s decision whether to accept a resignation.

Alderman Kim Cress and Mayor Pro Tem Jim LaFevers told Brown the board’s next budget session will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday, and they urged him not to resign Monday.

“See what we can do to work this out,” Cress said.

Brinkley said it was his understanding that the proposed 2018-19 budget calls for increasing part-time salaries for the Fire Department from $98,900 to $212,000 — an increase of $113,000.

He said it would equal a property tax increase of roughly 6 cents per $100 valuation. A 2-cent tax rate increase had been improved in the recent past for a new firetruck, Brinkley noted.

“The reasons for this move (the staffing increases in the budget) are troubling enough, but in the process to hide the true scope of the increase, one line item of $56,300 has been deleted,” Brinkley said.

The $56,300 was supposed to be used to replace supply hose and self-contained breathing equipment, according to Brinkley.

“In addition, $10,000 for future engine replacement has also been slashed,” Brinkley said in a statement he read to aldermen.

“This is not a budget any fire department could live with. It appears to be a ploy to hold the board hostage to any possible future equipment needs of the Fire Department.”

Brinkley said “the worst part of this whole business” is that it’s not part of any long-range approach and at the least should be part of a five-year capital needs plan.

“While the excuse has been given that it is hard to find volunteers, it always has been hard to find volunteers,” Brinkley said. “The department has to be creative and has to work to find new ways to recruit and retain volunteers.”

In some other observations on the Fire Department, Brinkley expressed concern that current members will burn out by responding to an excessive number of false alarms and going to mutual aid calls in other districts — “and most of these are canceled en route.”

He noted that in Brown’s most recent report, the department had responded to 84 calls in May, but only 37 were in Granite Quarry.

“I know that mutual aid is a necessary evil in the fire service, but it appears it has gone too far in Rowan County,” Brinkley said.

Brown detailed the problems his department is having in staffing and recruitment of trained manpower at the Board of Aldermen’s retreat in February and at board meetings since then.

He said Monday night Brinkley is right about the excessive number of false alarms fire departments have to answer, but he defended Granite Quarry’s assistance to other districts when mutual aid calls come in.

“To receive mutual aid,” Brown said, “you have to give it.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.